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Full text of "Billy Barcroft, R.N.A.S. : a story of the great war"

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GLORIES OF SEA 
AND AIR SERIES 

By 
PERCY F. 

WESTERMAN 

a 
THE MYSTERY SHIP 
THE RIVAL SUBMARINES 
BILLY BARCROFT OF THE R.N.A.S. 

A WATCH-DOG OF THE NORTH 

SEA 

a 

Publishers 

Partridge 

London 



BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S, 



Digitized by the Internet Archive 
in 2013 



http://archive.org/details/billybarcroftrnaOOwest 




THE FLAMING WRECKAGE WAS PLUNGING EARTHWARDS. 
LEAVING A FIERY TRAIL IN ITS WAKE." 



{V. 28L 



BILLY BARCROFT 

R.N.A.S. 

A STORY OF THE GREAT WAR 



BY 

PERCY F. WESTERMAN 

author of 

"a watch-dog of the north sea" 

•'a sub. of the r.n.r." 

etc. etc. 



Jubliebcrs 
PAFCTRJDGE 



Madt in Great Britain 
Fint published igij 



CONTENTS 



CHAPTER 

I. ** YOUR BIRD ! " . 

II. A PRICE ON HIS HEAD 

III. CONCERNING PETER BARCROFT 

IV. WHEN THE ZEPPELIN WAS OUT 
V. AT LADYBIRD FOLD . 

VI. KIDNAPPED 

VII. THE RAID . 

VIII. 'midst the scene OF RED RUIN 

IX. BETTY 

X. THE seaplane's QUEST 

XI. THE TERRORS OF THE AIR 

XII. THE raider's RETURN 

XIII. EXIT SEAPLANE NO. 445 B 

XIV. BUTTERFLY 
XV. RECALLED BY WIRE . 

XVI. CAPTIVES IN A SUBMARINE 

XVII. THE MIDDLE WATCH . 

XVIII. AN OCEAN DUEL 



PAdg 

9 
22 
29 
38 
48 

57 
68 

79 
89 

96 
108 
118 
135 
143 
161 
171 
184 
196 



CONTENTS 



Chapter 

XIX. HELD UP IN THE NORTH SEA . 

XX. INVESTIGATIONS 
XXI. ON THE TRAIL 

XXII. THE STRUGGLE ON THE CLIFFS 

XXIII. ON THE ROCKS 

XXIV. ENTWISTLE'S DECISION . 
XXV. THE BOMBING EXPEDITION 

XXVI. A FUTILE RESCUE . 

XXVII. FUGITIVES .... 

XXVIII. TRACKED .... 

XXIX. GASSED 

XXX. THE BARN BY THE RIVER 

XXXI. THE FRONTIER 

XXXII. AN AVERTED CATASTROPHE 

XXXIII. VON EITELWURMER'S OPPORTUNITY 

XXXIV. KIRKWOOD'S WINDFALL . 
XXXV. ONE CARTRIDGE LEFT 

XXXVI. THE ELUSIVE OBJECTIVE 

XXXVII. " THE GREAT STRAFE " . 

XXXVIII. SNATCHED FROM HER PURSUERS 

XXXIX. AND LAST . • • . 



BILLY BARCROFT 

R.N.A.S. 



CHAPTER I 

" YOUR BIRD ! " 

Two Bells of the First Dog Vv atch somewhere 
in the North Sea. 

To be a little more definite it was bordering 
that part of the North Sea that merges into the 
narrow Straits of Dover and almost within 
range of the German shore batteries of Zee- 
bnigge. 

It was mid-October. The equinoctial gales 
had not yet arrived to convert the placid 
surface of the sea into a regular turmoil of 
short, broken waves. Hardly a ripple ruffled 
the long gentle undulations. Not a cloud 
obscured the sky. The slanting rays of the 
sun played uninterruptedly upon the sloping 
deck of H.M. Seaplane Carrier '' Hippodrome " 
as she forged slowly ahead, surrounded by an 
escort of long, lean destroyers. 

9 



10 BILLY bahcroft, R.N.A.S. 

Her day's work was apparently over. The 
operations against the Zeebrugge defences — 
operations of almost a daily occurrence — had 
been carried out according to orders. The 
observation " kite " balloon had been hauled 
down and stowed in the " Hippodrome's '' 
after-well ; her brood of seaplanes had, save 
one, returned from their task of ''spotting" 
for the guns of the monitors, and everything 
had been made snug for the run back to her 
base. She awaited only the reappearance of 
the stray "duckling" to increase speed for 
home waters. 

'' Billy's getting properly strafed, I fancy," 
remarked Flight-Lieutenant John Fuller as the 
distant growl of innumerable ''antis" rever- 
berated in the still air. '' Wonder what the 
deuce he's doing ? When we swung about over 
Position 445 he was heading almost due east." 

" Billy won't suffer from cold feet," rejoined 
his companion — " a regular glutton for work. 
Give him a chance for a stunt (bombing raid) 
and he's all there. For a mere youngster, I say, 
he's " 

Further remarks concerning the rashness of 
Billy — otherwise Flight-sub-lieutenant Barcroft 
— were postponed by the appearance of yet 
another member of the '' Hippodrome's " flying- 
officers. 

'' Young Barcroft's just tick-tocked through," 



**YOtJll filKDl'* 11 

he announced. " He's on his way back. Cool 
cheek, by Jove ! Keeping the crowd of us 
waiting while he's joy-riding somewhere in 
the direction of BerUn. Wonder how far he 
went?" 

From where they stood, just abaft the star- 
board funnel-casing, the officers scanned the 
horizon. The '* Hippodrome," like most of her 
sisters, had at one time been a liner, but the 
building up of a launching-platform for sea- 
planes had resulted in considerable alterations 
to her external and internal appearance. 
Amongst other things she now had two funnels 
abreast and far apart in place of her original 
foremost one, in order to give full scope to the 
inclined plane that extended from her bows 
to within a few feet of the navigation bridge — 
a piece of new construction perched at least 
150 feet further aft than the old bridge and 
chart-room of pre-war days. 

The clank of a steam winch and the swinging 
overhead of a long steel derrick announced the 
fact that preparations were being made to 
welcome home the "stray bird." Although a 
seaplane could be launched with ease from the 
sloping platform, on her return she would have 
to alight in the water and ''taxi" alongside 
her parent ship. Hence the necessity for a 
long and powerful derrick to swing the sea- 
plane, with its broad expanse of wings, clear 



12 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

of the ship's side and deposit it carefully upon 
deck. 

''Here he comes!'' exclaimed Fuller, indi- 
cating a faint object in the eastern sky. 

Rapidly it resolved itself into a large biplane 
with triple floats in place of the three landing 
wheels that form a necessary adjunct to army 
aeroplanes. Then the poUshed wood propeller, 
glinting in the oblique rays of the sun, could 
be discerned as it slowed down preparatory to 
the seaplane commencing a thousand feet glide. 

With a succession of splashes the biplane 
took the water, '* bringing up " with admirable 
judgment at a distance of less than fifty yards 
from the starboard quarter of the parent ship. 

The seaplane carried a crew of two. The 
pilot pushing up a pair of goggles revealed a 
fresh-looking, clean-cut face that gave one the 
impression of a public school boy. Billy Bar- 
croft was still in his teens. He had just another 
month to enter into his twentieth year. In 
height he was a fraction under five feet ten 
inches ; weight — an important consideration 
from an airman's point of view — was '' ten 
seven." Supple and active, he carried not an 
ounce of superfluous flesh. Standing up and 
lightly grasping a stay, he swayed naturally 
to the slight lift of the seaplane — the personifica- 
tion of that product of the Twentieth Century, 
the airman. 



"YOUR BIRD!" 18 

His companion, who had just completed the 
'* winding in" of the traiUng aerial, raised his 
head above the coaming surrounding the 
observer's seat. In appearance he resembled 
Barcroft so strongly that the pair might have 
been taken for twin-brothers. But no relation- 
ship, save the ties of friendship and duty, 
existed betwixt Billy Barcroft and his observer, 
Bobby Kirkwood. The latter was an Assistant 
Paymaster, who, deserting the ship's ofBce for 
the freedom of the air, had already mastered 
the intricacies of '' wireless " and other qualifi- 
cations necessary for the responsible duties of 
observer. 

*' You've been a jolly long time, you belated 
bird ! " shouted Fuller in mock reproof. 
'' WOiat's the stunt ? " 

*' Couldn't help it," replied Barcroft with a 
broad grin. '* If you were in my place and 
saw a crowd of Hun Staff officers pushing along 
in motor-cars wouldn't your idea of courtesy 
lead you to pay them a little attention ? Kirk- 
wood gave 'em a couple of plums and a whole 
drum. Result — a slight increase in the Hun 
death-rate." 

Barcroft had, in fact, gone well inland over 
the German batteries, on a sort of informal 
joy-ride. From a height of 5,000 feet the 
observer had spotted what appeared to be a 
motor convoy bowling along the road between 



14 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

Zeebnigge and Bruges. With a daring border- 
ing on recklessness the pilot had vol-planed 
down to within two hundred feet, greatly to the 
consternation of the grey-cloaked German Staff 
officers, who, leaving the shelter of their steel- 
roofed cars, scurried with loss of dignity for 
the safety that was denied most of them. For 
with admirable precision Kirkwood had dropped 
two bombs fairly into the hne of cars, following 
up the attack by firing a whole drum of am- 
munition from the Lewis gun into the fleeing 
Huns. 

Deftly the flexible steel wire from the out- 
swung derrick engaged the lifting hooks of the 
seaplane. The machine was just clear of the 
water when the order came ''Avast heaving.'* 
Simultaneously a bugle blared. It was the 
call for Flying Officers. 

Leaping into the stern sheets of a boat in 
attendance, Barcroft and Kirkwood were taken 
to the side of the ''Hippodrome," where they 
gained the deck of the ship. Aheady Fuller 
and the rest of the airmen had gone aft. Some- 
thing was literally in the air. 

The signal commander held up a leaf torn from 
a signal pad. 

" A wireless has just come through,*' he 
announced in clear deliberate tones. " A hostile 
plane has made a raid over parts of Kent. She 
is now on her way back, apparently heading 



"YOUR BIRD!" 15 

for Ostend. Machines from Eastchurch have 
started in pursuit, but the Hun has a useful 
lead. Now, gentlemen, a nod is as good as a 
wink to a blind horse : we are between the 
raider and h's base/' 

The assembly dispersed like magic, the air- 
men hurriedly donning leather jackets and 
flying helmets and giving peremptory orders to 
the mechanics in attendance. In less than five 
minutes the first of the stowed seaplanes was 
ready to glide down the inclined platform tc 
take to flight. 

Yet, from a starting point of view Barcroft 
had a decided advantage. His seaplane was 
practically ready. There was enough petrol 
for a lengthy flight, and a good reserve of 
ammxmition for the Lewis gun. Bombs there 
were none, nor were any likely to be required 
for the task in hand. The chances of a hit on 
a small and rapidly-moving target were very 
remote. It was by machine-gun fire that the 
attack upon the returning raider was to be made. 

With the motor throbbing noisily and with 
clouds of oil-smelUng smoke pouring from her 
exhaust, Barcroft's seaplane taxied away from 
the towering side of her ungainly parent. Then, 
so gracefully that it was impossible to deter- 
mine the exact moment wh; n the aircraft ceased 
to be waterbome, the seaplane rose swiftly 
and steadily in the air. 



16 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

Climbing in steep spirals the machine quickly 
rose to a height of 5,000 feet. It was enough 
for all practical purposes, allowing a margin 
of superior altitude to that of the expected 
Boche. 

*' Good enough ! '* shouted the flight-sub 
through the speaking tube. '' Aerials paid out ? 
All ready ? '' 

'* All serene,'* repUed Kirkwood, affixing a 
whole drum of ammunition to the upper side 
of the breech mechanism of the deadly machine- 
gun. '' By Jove, we've all been pretty sUck 
this time. The fifth bird has just got away.'' 

Barcroft leant over the side of the fuselage. 
Seven hundred feet below and speeding away 
to the nor'-west were a couple of the '' Hippo- 
drome's " seaplanes. Two more, at a lower 
altitude but still climbing, were heading in a 
south-easterly direction. Thus, when the for- 
mation was complete, Barcroft's machine would 
be in the centre of a far-flimg line thrown out 
to form a barrier betwixt the solitary raider 
and his base. 

The British airmen were at an atmospheric 
disadvantage. Straight in their face came the 
rays of the setting sun, while the calm sea 
beneath them was one blaze of reflected light. 
Against that blinding glare it was almost im- 
possible to distinguish the mere black dot in 



"YOUR BIRD!" 17 

the vast aerial expanse that represented the 
returning hostile aviator ; while on the other 
hand the Hun, with the sun at his back, would 
be able to discern with comparative ease the 
glint of the seaplane's wings. 

The characteristic tick of the wireless brought 
Kirkwood to attention. With the receiver 
clamped to his ear he took down the message 
and passed it on to his companion. 

'* Our pigeon ! '* soliloquised Barer oft grimly. 

The information was to the effect that the 
" Hippodrome " had first sighted the approach- 
ing Hun machine by means of telescopes. The 
hostile craft had previously spotted two of the 
intercepting seaplanes, and her pilot, taking 
advantage of the light, decided to make a vol- 
plane to within a few hundred feet above the 
level of the sea. By so doing he was sacrificing 
his advantage of altitude, but there was a 
chance of slipping unobserved under the British 
aircraft. Once through the far-flung cordon he 
hoped to rely upon superior speed and climbing 
powers to elude pursuit. 

By this time Barcroft had '' picked up '' his 
opponent. At first sight it seemed as if the 
Hun were executing a nose dive. Keenly on 
the alert the flight-sub depressed the ailerons 
with a quick yet decided movement. There 
was no trace of jerkiness in the pilot's actions. 
All were performed with that smooth dexterity 
2 



18 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

and rapidity that comprised the essential quali- 
fications of a successful airman. 

At an aggregate speed of nearly two hundred 
miles an hour the rival aeroplanes converged. 
It seemed as if each pilot were bent upon 
ramming his opponent and sending the colliding 
craft to a common destruction. 

Barcroft, his hands resting lightly on the 
" joy-stick/' was keenly alert to every forth- 
coming move of his adversary. Already the 
Hun observer was letting off rounds from his 
machine-gun in the vain hope that some of the 
hail of bullets would disable the British sea- 
plane. On his part Kirkwood *' stood by," 
ready at the first favourable opportunity to let 
the Hun have a taste of the Lewis gun — and the 
opportunity was not yet. 

Suddenly the German monoplane straightened 
out, then, lifting, attempted to pass above the 
seaplane. Quick as a flash Barcroft grasped 
the situation. Round swung the British 
machine, though not before a dozen holes had 
been ripped in her wings, as, banking steeply, 
she presented a vast spread of canvas to the 
hostile machine-gun. 

Through the turning movement of his oppo- 
nent the Hun had gained nearly three hundred 
yards. The observer, swinging his gun aft, was 
busily engaged in fitting a new belt of am- 
munition. 



"YOUR BIRD!" 19 

It was now Kirkwood's chance. The hostile 
monoplane was still within easy range, although 
momentarily her superior speed was taking her 
further and further away from her pursuer. 
She had broken through the cordon. Ahead 
was a straight, unimpeded run for home. 

The Lewis gun began to splutter. Half — three- 
quarters of the drum of ammunition was ex- 
pended without tangible result. The Hun 
observer, too, had got his machine-gun in 
working order and was pumping out nickel at 
the rate of five hundred rounds a minute. 

It was a duel to the death. At that dizzy 
height no human being could fall and reach 
the surface of the sea alive. No cover, no 
sheltering trenches protected the four com- 
batants. In the blue vault of heaven they 
were compelled to kill or be killed, or even deal 
out complete and horrifying destruction to each 
other. 

*' Got him, by Jove ! " shouted Kirk wood, 
as the Hun at the machine-gun threw up his 
arms and toppled inertly across the barrel of 
the weapon. For perhaps ten seconds he hung 
thus, till the monoplane, rocking through an 
air-pocket, tilted violently. For a brief instant 
the body trembled in the balance, then slipping 
sideways the dead Boche toppled over the edge 
of the fuselage and fell Hke a stone through 
space. 



20 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

" Keep it up, you're on it ! '' yelled Baxcroft, 
never for a moment taking his eyes off the 
fugitive monoplane. 

His observer heard the shout but the words 
were unintelligible in the deafening rush of air. 
Nevertheless he maintained a steady fire at 
the enemy machine. 

To give the Hun pilot his due he made no 
attempt to throw up the sponge. He might 
have made a nose-dive, trusting to flatten out 
and gain the surface of the water. The machine 
would have sunk like a stone, but there was a 
faint chance of the pilot being able to un- 
buckle the strap that held him to the seat and 
make an attempt to save himself by swimming. 

The Hun did unfasten the leather strap, but 
for a different purpose. The monoplane, being 
of a self-steering type, could be relied upon to 
continue her flight more or less in a straight 
line, without a controlling touch on the rudder- 
bar. 

With a stealthy, cat-like movement the 
German made his way to the observer's seat, and 
gripping the firing mechanism of the machine- 
gun prepared to return the dangerous greetings 
from his pursuer. 

Less than fifteen miles off — twelve minutes 
flight — lay the flat outlines of the Belgian 
coast. Unless Fritz could be brought down 
rapidly the raider would win through. 



"YOUR BIRD!" 21 

Suddenly the monoplane tilted and settled 
down to a dizzy nose-dive. Whether a vital 
part had been hit or whether the uncontrollable 
drop was due to faulty construction neither 
Barcroft nor his companion knew. For the 
moment the flight-sub imagined that it was a 
daring ruse on the part of the Hun pilot, imtil 
he realised that the latter was in the observer's 
seat when the catastrophe occurred. 

Down plunged the vanquished monoplane, 
spirally, erratically. The pilot was clinging 
desperately to the machine-gun. Even as the 
'plane dashed through space the weapon, imder 
the pressure of the Hun's hand, was aimlessly 
spitting out bullets. 

Again the wireless ticked off a message. It 
was from another seaplane that, although far 
away in the original cordon, had swung round 
and joined in the pursuit. Kirkwood's eyes 
twinkled as he deciphered the dots and dashes ; 
- '* Congrats : your bird ! " 



CHAPTER II 

A PRICE ON HIS HEAD 

Flight Sub-lieutenant Barcroft scanned the 
expanse of water beneath him. The '' Hippo- 
drome '* was now a mere speck far away to the 
westward. Four distinct trails of smoke be- 
tokened the fact that British destroyers were 
pelting to the scene of the seaplane's victory. 

On all other points of the compass the surface 
of the sea was deserted. 

'' Wind up ! " exclaimed Barcroft, using the 
speaking-tube for the first time since the opening 
of the duel. '' Fm going to have a look at our 
bag.'' 

The A. P. began to reel in the trailing length 
of wireless aerial, while the pilot, shutting off 
the motor, began a spiral volplane towards the 
surface of the water. His ** opposite number " 
— the seaplane that had tendered her con- 
gratulations — was also gliding down towards the 
spot where the Hun aeroplane had struck the 
surface. Barcroft recognised her pilot as Lieu- 
tenant John Fuller. 

22 



A PRICE ON HIS HEAD 28 

The white patch of foam that had been created 
by the terrific impact o± the wrecked machine 
had already vanished, but a series of ever- 
diverging concentric circles of iridescent oil 
marked the spot. The monoplane had sunk 
Hke a stone. 

'' No use going any lower/' announced the 
Flight-sub, as he prepared to restart the engine. 

'* Hold hard ! '* exclaimed the observer. 
** There's something floating. I believe, by 
smoke ! it's the Boche pilot." 

** That alters the case, then,'' decided Bar- 
croft. '' We'll investigate still further." 

The Hun showed no signs of life. Kept up 
by his inflated jacket he floated on his back, 
his legs and arms trailing Ustlessly and his wide- 
open eyes staring vacantly into the element 
through which a few minutes previously he had 
been flying for his Ufe. 

The British seaplane alighted within a stone's 
throw of the corpse. Gravely both pilot and 
observer saluted the vanquished. Whether he 
deserved the honour or not the victors did not 
pause to consider. He might have been the 
cause of the deaths of a score or more inoffensive 
civilians — women and children perhaps ; but 
death wipes out old scores. Barcroft and his 
companion merely recognised the dead airman 
as an opponent worthy of their steel, and as 
such he was entitled to the homage that one 



24 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

brave man pays to another. Of his past record 
they knew nothing. Their tribute was the 
spontaneous acknowledgment of a well-con- 
tested fight. 

Slowly the seaplane taxied until one of the 
floats was within a foot or so of the Hun air- 
man's corpse. Agilely Kirkwood swung himself 
over the side of the fuselage and swarmed down 
one of the supporting struts to the broad float. 

''Ugh!'' he soliloquised. "The feUow's 
grinning at me." 

Securing the body the A. P. deftly opened the 
leather jacket. From the inner breast pocket 
he withdrew a bulky pocket-book, a map and 
an envelope, sealed and addressed and enclosed 
in oiled silk. Further search produced a gun- 
metal watch. On the lid was inscribed in High 
German characters : ** War substitute in lieu 
of gold watch patriotically surrendered by 
Unter-leutnant E. von Biilow und Helferich." 
A purse completed the list of articles found on 
the body. 

'' Buck up ! " exclaimed Barcroft. ** It will 
be dark in another twenty minutes.'' 

Thus abjured Kirkwood opened the valve of 
the dead airman's inflated jacket. Slowly the 
corpse sank beneath the surface to find a tempor- 
ary resting-place on the bed of the North Sea. 

Night had fallen by the time the seaplanes 
had returned to their parent ship and had been 



A PRICE ON HIS HEAD 25 

safely housed. The '' Hippodrome/' steaming 
with screened lights and escorted by the vigilant 
destroyers, resumed her belated run for home 
waters. 

Barcroft and Kirkwood, in the large and 
well-lighted wardroom, were examining the 
'' effects " of their victim, while a crowd of 
flying-officers stood round to watch the pro- 
ceedings. 

The A. P. had separated the Hun's personal 
belongings and was making them up into a 
parcel, to be sealed and delivered to the dead 
aviator's relatives when opportunity occurred. 
It was a point of etiquette faithfully carried 
out by the airmen of both sides whenever cir- 
cumstances made it possible. 

Barcroft was studiously scanning the docu- 
ments that were not of a personal nature. The 
map was a German production, and comprised 
a large scale area of Kent. Probably it was 
based upon the British Ordnance Survey, 
supplemented by details gathered by the swarm 
of Hun spies who more or less openly infested 
the length and breadth of the British Isles 
prior to the memorable month of August 1914. 
Yet there was clear evidence of the map being 
brought up to date, recently-erected munition 
factories and other places of military importance 
being faithfully recorded. The margin was 
embellished with photographic reproductions of 



26 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

views of conspicuous landmarks taken from a 
considerable altitude. 

''J0II3' rummy how these Boche birds get 
hold of these views/' commented Fuller. '' I 
swear they didn't take them unless they've 
been running daylight trips in noiseless and 
practically invisible 'planes. It's their strafed 
organisation that is so wonderful. Knock holes 
in that and it's all up \Wth Hunland. Hullo, 
Billy, what's the excitement ? " 

Barcroft, holding up a paper he had taken 
from the pocket-book, was studying it \\-ith the 
deepest interest, while his face was dimpled 
with hnes of suppressed laughter. 

"By Jove:" he exclaimed. "Won't the 
governor be bucked ? Listen to this, you 
fellows. I'll have to go slow, as some of the 
tongue-spUtting words take a bit of trans- 
lating : 

" ' It is my Royal and Imperial command that 
steps be taken to secure the person of the 
Englishman Peter Barcroft, residing at Rivers- 
dale House, near Alderdene, in the county of 
Kent, the said Peter Barcroft having published 
or caused to be published books that — that — 
(can't quite make out what's SchriftsteUer ? 
Ah ! I have it) of which he is the author, the 
same books treating Us with Libellous contempt. 
To the good German who succeeds in producing 
the said Peter Barcroft alive on German soil 



A PRICE ON HIS HEAD 27 

will be paid the reward of twenty thousand 
marks. In the event of the said Peter Barer oft 
being slain by the act of one of my subjects the 
reward will be ten thousand marks. — Wilhelm, 
I.R.'^' 

'' So that's what Unter-leutnant E. von 
Billow und Helferich was on the stunt for/' 
remarked Fuller. ''Yes, by smoke! there's a 
red circle drawn round the village of Alderdene. 
Billy, my festive, your pater will have to look 
out for himself." 

'' Perhaps the Hun has already wiped Rivers- 
dale House out of existence," said Barer oft 
with a hearty laugh. 

His brother officers looked at him in astonish- 
ment. His levity, at the possibility of his 
parent's annihilation by a few hundred pounds 
of high explosive, seemed altogether out of 
place. 

** Steady, old man," exclaimed Tar let on, the 
senior '' fiight-luff." 

** Can't help it," continued Barcroft, vainly 
endeavouring to suppress his mirth. '* Fancy 
a Boche going all that way on a fruitless errand, 
even supposing he did drop a plum within half 
a mile of the house. The governor vacated the 
show last quarter-day, and it's still empty. 
There isn't another house within a couple of 
miles of it, and it belongs to a regular pig of a 
lawyer-josser who's at loggerheads with every- 



28 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

body. Let*s hope, if the house is pulverised, 
that it isn't insured against hostile aircraft. Vm 
not vindictive, but it would serve the bounder 
right." 

** Where's your governor now ? ** enquired 
Fuller. 

** Eh ? Entering for the Kaiser's Stakes, old 
man ? Well, here's a clue. He's moved to 
Tarleigh, a little show somewhere in Lancashire. 
About six or seven miles from Barborough, I 
believe, and the same distance from anywhere 
else. At any rate, I'm off there directly I get 
my leave. By Jove, won't the old man feel 
honoured ! — a price set on his head by Irre- 
sponsible Bill. He'll feel as proud as Punch. 
By the bye — don't all speak at once — who's 
pinched my matches ? " 



CHAPTER III 

CONCERNING PETER BARCROFT 

" And Billy arrives by the ten-fifty. No, I 
don't think Til wait here for three hours and 
then stand a chance of missing him. FU get 
back home and give him a fitting welcome to 
the new house." 

Thus meditated Peter Barcroft as he paced 
up and down the crowded up-platform of Bar- 
borough Station. He had studied with varying 
emotions a poster depicting a flabby, pigeon- 
toed child with one hand over that part of the 
human form known to infants as a '' tummy '* 
and supposed to be ejaculating, *' I feel so jolly 
here.'* Even that mild excitement paled, and 
Mr. Barcroft pined for the congenial warmth 
of his study. The platform was cold and 
draughty, offering no inducei.xents to linger for 
the arrival of the sure-to-be belated *' ten-fifty. '* 

Peter Barcroft was a thick-set man of forty- 
five. In height he was a good two inches 
shorter than his airman son. He was clean- 
shaven. Had he removed his Norfolk cap it 
might have been noticed that his iron-grey hair 

29 



30 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

showed thin on his temples and was conspicu- 
ously absent on the top of his head. His fore- 
head was high, and in conjunction with two 
vertical \mnkles extending upwards from the 
inner ends of his eyebrows, gave the appearance 
of a deep tliinker. Other\\ise there was little 
about him to give one the idea that he was 
engaged in Uterar}' pursuits. According to 
popular notions he ought to be wearing shabby 
clothes of eccentric, out-of-date cut ; he should 
affect a weird type of soft collar and a flowing 
tie ; his hair ought to be long and wa\y. But 
Peter Barcroft had none of these qualincations. 
To judge him by appearances he was just an 
ordinary middle-aged man of powerful physique 
and retaining many of the qualities of a bygone 
athletic age. 

He had been Uving only a fortnight in Lan- 
cashire. Why he migrated from Kent was a 
mystery to the friends he had left behind. 
Perhaps he did not know himself, imless it was 
surrender to a sudden, almost eccentric desire 
for pastures new. 

Up to a certain point he possessed the artistic 
temperament. He worked only when it suited 
him, and generally seized every plausible excuse 
to " knock off." Yet, when he did settle to his 
task he wTote at a tremendous rate, and so 
vilely that often he was quite unable to decipher 
his own caligraphy. In financial matters he 



CONCERNING PETER BARCROFT 31 

was as careless as a man could possibly be. 
Rarely he knew the state of his current account. 
Trivial matters in everyday life would send him 
into a towering rage, while the loss of a couple of 
hundred pounds hardly troubled him in the 
least degree. He would ransack the house to 
find a favourite pipe which he had mislaid, or 
waste half a day searching in vain for a certain 
pen which he felt sure he had left in such-and- 
such a place. On the other hand, when a 
valuable and almost new overcoat was stolen 
from the hall he just shrugged his shoulders and 
soon forgot all about it. 

During the fortnight he had been the tenant 
of Ladybird Fold, Peter Barcroft had either 
'* sacked " or had been "sacked" by three 
housemaids and two cooks, to the consternation 
and despair of his wife. The servant problem, 
probably more acute in the manufacturing 
district of Lancashire than anywhere else in the 
kingdom, was in this case rendered even more 
difficult by Peter's display of irritation at the 
manifold but trivial delinquencies of his staff 
of menials. 

Mrs. Barcroft had gone on a visit to a relative 
in Cheshire on the strength of a vague report 
that there was a girl who might be willing to 
take the vacant place of housemaid at Ladybird 
Fold. His wife's absence for two days had 
given Peter the excuse to '* knock off.'' It was 



82 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

one of his avowed peculiarities that he could 
not write a stroke unless his wife were with him 
in the study. So Mr. Barcroft had gone for 
a jaunt in his light car. 

After the splendidly-surfaced gravelled or 
tarmac roads of Kent the greasy granite setts 
and bumpy slag roads of the north came as an 
unpleasant surprise to the easy-going Peter. 
A couple of punctures in addition to a slight 
collision with a '' lurry " — a type of vehicle 
hitherto known to him as a lorry — did not 
improve his peace of mind, while what ought to 
have been the climax to a day of mishaps was 
the sudden failure of the magneto at a desolate 
spot on the western slope of the Pennine Hills. 

But unruffled Peter pushed the car on to the 
side of the road and tramped stolidly into the 
nearest village — a good three miles. Here, in 
an interview with the decrepit mot or- engineer 
(Barcroft guessed rightly that he was too passe 
even for munition making), he learnt that at 
least a month must elapse before the magneto 
could be re-wdred. He received the intelligence 
with equanimity, for in his pocket was a tele- 
gram to the effect that Billy was coming home 
that night. Nothing else mattered. 

" Which is the Tarleigh train ? '* enquired 
Mr. Barcroft of a porter. 

'* Next one in on this side," replied the man 
gruffly. 



CONCERNING PETER BARCROFT 83 

Half a minute later the train rumbled mto 
the station. Mr. Barcroft, realising that up 
to the present he had not mastered the intricate 
system of train-service of the Lancashire and 
Yorkshire Railway, and having had many 
previous experiences of being misinformed by 
surly servants of the various railway companies, 
addressed himself to a passenger who was about 
to enter a carriage. 

*' Tarleigh ? Yes, you're quite right. At any 
rate, Tm for Blackberry Cross.'' 

'' Thank you," replied Peter. 

*' Motorist ? " enquired the other laconically. 

** Yes ; had a breakdown." 

The ice was broken. The studied, almost 
taciturn reserve of the typical level-headed 
Lancashire man was not proof against the claims 
of motoring. Before the train glided out of 
the station the two passengers were deep in the 
subject of cars and their peculiarities. 

'' Dash it all ! we seem a long time getting 
to Two Elms," remarked the stranger. 

He drew aside the blind and peered into the 
darkness. At that moment the train rumbled 
under a broad bridge. 

** Sorry!" he exclaimed. "We're already 
half way between Blackberry Cross and Tarleigh. 
We must have taken the wrong train : it's a 
non-stop to Windyhill." 

** Don't mention it," rejoined Peter affably. 
8 



84 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

'Tm quite enjoying your society. An hour 
or so won't make very much difference provided 
I can get home before eleven. I hope you won't 
be inconvenienced ? " 

The stranger laughed. 

'' Vm secretary of the Tarleigh and Black- 
berry Cross Golf Club," he explained. '' Ent- 
wistle — Philip Entwistle — is my name. By pro- 
fession I am what is commonly known as a vet. 
It's our Annual General Meeting, and I'm due 
there at eight." 

" 'Fraid it will have to stop at the due," said 
Mr. Barcroft grimly. '' It's 7.30 already." 

*' You'll be all right," continued Entwistle. 
" There's a train back from \Mndyhill at 10.5 
You're a stranger to the district ? " 

'' Fairly so," admitted Peter. '' I've taken 
Ladybird Fold for three years." 

'' Your name doesn't happen to be Norton — 
Andrew Norton ? " 

'* No," was the reply. *' Barcroft's my name. 
I know Norton. He's a newcomer. Only been 
here a week, I believe ; and in that time he's 
frozen on to me. Kind of companionship in a 
strange land, so to speak. He seems a very 
decent sort ; in fact, I rather hke him. He's 
my nearest neighbour and he Uves at least 
half a mile from Ladybird Fold." 

'' What is he ? " asked Entwistle. '' Inde- 
pendent ? " 



CONCERNING PETER BARCROFT 35 

"So I should imagine. He has plenty of 
time on his hands, and spends a good part 
of it with me, except when I have to choke 
him off. He'll be sitting in my study when 
I get home, for a dead cert. Already he's 
made it a practice of looking me up at ten 
o'clock of an evening, after I've knocked off. 
You see," he added apologetically. '* I have 
to work." 

" At what ? " enquired his companion, the 
Lancashire thirst for knowledge ever in the 
foreground. 

'* I am a professional liar," announced Peter 
with mock gravity. 

*' A what ? Oh, I suppose you mean that 
you're a lawyer ? " 

*' Heaven forbid!" protested Mr. Barcroft 
piously. '* You misunderstand me. I am a 
novelist. Modesty forbids me to give you my 
nom de plume. At present, however, I am 
engaged upon a book of a technical character 
dealing with the conduct of the war. Perhaps 
some of my theories will be a bit startling when 
pushed on to the British Public, but they'll be 
vindicated." 

*' Hang it all ! " exclaimed Entwistle. '* I 
have heard of you already." 

** Have you really ? " enquired Peter. Pro- 
fessional vanity — although he was not afflicted 
with *' swollen head " — made him perhaps justi- 



86 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

fiably keen on hearing outside opinions of his 
literary efforts. 

'' Yes/' continued his companion. " It was 
the Vicar of Tarleigh. He was in Wheatcroft's 
place — down the bottom of Blackberry Hill — 
and while he was talking to the old man a car 
came along driven by you. In it were two sheep 
dogs barking Uke fury. I think I am right in 
the description ? '* 

Peter nodded appreciatingly. 

'* Says the vicar, ' And what might that 
terrific disturbance mean ? ' ' Eh, parson/ 
rephed Old Wheatcroft, ''tis but that there 
novel-writing chap as lives in Ladybird Fold.' 
So you see they've got you posted up all right. 
But here we are/' he continued, as the train 
came to a standstill. '' It's a jolly draughty 
station to hang about." 

''It is," admitted Barcroft. *' But for- 
tunately there's very little wind. A proper 
Zeppelin night." 

" Suppose so," admitted Entwistle. " You 
see, we don't worry very much about those 
gentry. Now, in Yorkshire, for instance, it 
would be otherwise, but we are on the right side 
of the Pennines. I don't for one moment think 
that a Zep. will ever get so far as this." 

Peter shrugged his shoulders. On that matter 
he preferred to maintain silence. 

Up and down the bleak platform the two men 



CONCERNING PETER BARCROFT 87 

paced until Entwistle, glancing at his watch in 
the feeble glimmer of a shaded lamp, exclaimed — 

** Twenty-five to eleven. Bless my soul, the 
time has gone quickly. That confounded train 
is late.'' 

Before Barcroft could offer any remark the 
platform lights were turned off. Simultaneously 
the electric signal lamps ceased to give forth 
their red and green warning. 

** What's up ? " demanded Entwistle. 
'* Failure of the gas works and the Company's 
electric light station ? " 

'' Hanged if I know," declared Peter. '' It 
strikes me very forcibly that we'll have to walk 
those seven miles. I suppose it means twelve 
for you ? A taxi, or even a humble four-wheeler 
is an impossibility in this forsaken hole." 

A man, stumbling across the rails in the 
darkness, clambered upon the platform within 
a yard of the two would-be passengers. 

*' Sorry, sir," he muttered apologetically. 

*' What's all this about ? " enquired Ent- 
wistle. '' Why have the lights gone out ? Are 
there no more trains to-night ? " 

'* No, sir, no more trains yet awhile," replied 
the porter, for such he was. '* They've just 
got a warning through. Them swine of Zeps. 
is somewheres about." 



CHAPTER IV 

WHEN THE ZEPPELIN WAS OUT 

" We'll have to foot it, man/' declared Ent- 
wistle decidedly. '' Unless we can get a car 
to pick us up on the road. Zeppelins, by 
smoke ! Whoever would have thought it ? I 
didn't ; not this side of the Pennines." 

" So I believe you said," replied Peter Bar- 
croft, as the two men swung down the inclined 
approach to the station and gained the setts of 
the dingy street. '* Still, they may be miles 
away. These official warnings are the pattern 
of eccentricity. You know the road ? " 

''Yes, fortimately. Dash it all! I don't 
mind the excitement. It's my wife I'm thinking 
about, if they should come to Barborough. 
Ever seen a Zep., Barer oft ? " 

'* Several," replied Peter. ** They are fairly 
common objects down in Kent. Get quite 
accustomed to them. Latterly I have slept 
soundly, in spite of the noise of the engines. 
Of course they didn't drop any bombs in that 
particular district. In point of fact they 
eventually dumped their dangerous cargo into 

38 



WHEN THE ZEPPELIN WAS OUT 89 

some fields a few miles from anywhere. Our 
Kghting restrictions are far more stringent than 
they are up here. Barborough is a blaze of 
light compared, say, with Tangtable or Cobley, 
the nearest large towns to Alderdene, where I 
used to live." 

** You used to sleep through it," repeated 
Mr. Entwistle. '' That reminds me. I noticed 
that when we were walking up and down the 
platform just now you invariably got round 
to my left as we turned. Are you deaf in one 
ear ?" 

'* Yes," replied Peter. *' Stone deaf in my 
left. A really valuable asset when one has to 
be in the presence of bores, or enduring curtain 
lectures and the like." 

'* Then we may congratulate ourselves," was 
his companion's response. '* I, too, am deaf, 
only in my right ear. When I was at school 
at Scarborough a brute of a master hiked me up 
by my ears. Result, deafness in one of them. 
Yes, I agree, it's very convenient at times." 

By now they had breasted the steep rise out 
of Windyhill and had gained the bleak summit 
of the lofty ridge. In ordinary circumstances 
would be seen the twinkling lights from scores 
of factories — '* works " as these are termed 
locally — in the five distinct valleys that radiate 
from this particular spur. All was now in utter 
darkness, save for a feeble glimmer from an 



40 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

isolated signal-box at the entrance to a deep 
cutting. 

'' That chap's looking for trouble/' declared 
Barer oft, indicating the dim patch of luminosity. 
'' They would spot that for a distance of ten 
miles. I say, isn't the atmosphere clear for 
this part of the country, and in autumn, too. 
It's the first absolutely fine night I have seen 
since I've lived here — ideal for Zeps., too. No 
wind to speak of and pitch dark. Listen." 

The two men stopped abruptly. Above the 
faint rumble of the evening breeze could be 
distinguished a subdued and distinct hum. 

'' That's the brute," declared Peter. '' It's a 
Zep. sure enough." 

" Certain ? " asked Entwistle anxiously. 

** Rather — and it's coming this way." 

In silence the two pedestrians waited. Nearer 

and nearer came the now increasing buzzing of 

the engines of the immense gas-bag. Vainly 

they attempted to detect the elongated airship. 

With heads thrown back they strove to pierce 

the black vault above. The ''thing" was 

there, but it was invisible from where they stood. 

Only by the sinister sounds did they know of 

its presence. Then with the same rapidity as 

the unseen had approached the whirr grew 

fainter and fainter until it was heard no longer. 

'* Phew ! " ejaculated Entwistle, mopping 

his forehead. '' I'm not of a funky nature, but, 



WHEN THE ZEPPELIN WAS OUT 41 

by Jove ! Tm glad that beastly thing's gone. 
It gives a fellow a peculiar sensation somewhere 
in the region of the stomach. What's the 
time ? " 

*' About eleven, I should imagine/' replied 
Barcroft, '' I won't strike a match. Well, I 
suppose the Zep. has missed Barborough by this 
time — unless she's slowed down and circling 
over the town," he added in an undertone. 

They were descending into one of the numerous 
valleys that lay betwixt them and Tarleigh. 
The effluvium of a neighbouring bleaching 
works was wafted to their nostrils. 

'* Rufford's Works," explained Entwistle. 
** Lucky that Zep didn't drop a bomb. There 
are hundreds of gallons of benzine stored there. 
. . . Yes, I fancy it's all right as far as Bar- 
borough is concerned. Wish a car would over- 
take us. Notwithstanding the fine night I 
don't feel particularly keen for a long tramp." 

'' Let me give you a shakedown at Ladybird 
Fold," suggested Peter. *' You can telephone 
through to Barborough and let your wife know 
where you are." 

'' No, no, my dear fellow," protested Ent- 
wistle. '* It's imposing on your good nature. 
Besides, you mentioned that your son was 
coming home on leave." 

'' Yes," said Mr. Barcroft. *' Wonder if he's 
arrived yet, or is held up at some out-of-the-way 



42 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

railway station or in a tunnel. That won't 
make any difference. If it did I shouldn't have 
mentioned the matter. I can be as confoundedly 
blunt as you Lancashire people when I want." 

'*So I believe," rejoined Entwistle tersely. 
" Well, ril accept your offer with pleasure. 
Now for the next hill. It's a regular brute, even 
for this part of the world. When a fellow is 
past forty he's not so good at this sort of work 
as he was. One has to admit the fact however 
much one tries to stifle the discovery. I used 
to pride myself on being a runner, and it came 
as a nasty shock when my fifteen -year -old son 
beat me in a 440 sprint — not by so very much, 
though," he added in defence of his bygone 
prowess. 

''The third milestone," announced Peter 
pointing to a weatherbeaten slab just visible in 
the gloom. 

*' Yes, and the highest part of the road," 
added Entwistle. '' It is about " 

He stopped abruptly. Away to the south- 
ward a vivid flash illuminated the sky, followed 
by three more in quick succession. Summer 
lightning would pale into insignificance com- 
pared with the intensity of those momentary 
sheets of lurid light. 

** Good heavens — Barborough ! " ejaculated 
the vet. 

Barcroft made no remark. Failing his in- 



WHEN THE ZEPPELIN WAS OUT 48 

ability to read the face of his watch he placed 
the fingers of his right hand on his left wrist and 
carefully counted the pulse beats. 

*' Forty-five ! '* he announced calmly as the 
first of four loud detonations rent the air. 

Crash — crash — crash — crash. It was as if he 
had been inside a tin bath and some one was 
belabouring it with a wooden mallet. Even 
allowing for the distance of the source of the 
sound the din was terrible. 

A minute later came two more flashes, almost 
simultaneously, with forty-eight beats before 
the reports. Then one solitary flash followed 
by an even greater interval ere the detonation 
was heard. 

** The brutes ! '' muttered Entwistle. 

Again Peter made no audible comment. He 
was making a rapid mental calculation. Seventy 
pulsations to a minute : sound travels at 
roughly 365 yards to a second. Yes, that 
placed the scene of the raid at a distance of 
nine miles, and judging by the direction it was 
that populous town that had been the target 
for the missiles of the Zeppelin. 

*' She's gone, at any rate,'' he said. 

" Yes, but goodness only knows what damage 
she's done in that minute and a half," added 
Entwistle. '' What's more we're between her 
and that cursed Germany. Come on, man, 
let's hasten." 



44 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

It was half -past twelve as the two pedestrians 
made their way through the village of Scatter- 
beck. Almost the whole of the population was 
astir, discussing in the shrill rapid Lancashire 
dialect the totally unexpected visit of the 
aerial raider. Thrice enquiries on the part of 
Barcroft and his companion brought the dis- 
concerting information that no vehicle of any 
description was available. There was nothing 
for it but to continue their long tramp. 

At length the summit of Tarleigh Hill was 
surmounted. Here they encountered a belated 
wayfarer — a watchman from the neighbouring 
works. 

'* Eh, maaster/' he replied to an anxious 
question. *' Tm thinkin' 'tes Barborough right 
enow. Seed *em drop mysen, an' agen ower 
Percombe way. Eh, but there'll be a rush to 
t' recruitin' office after this. Lancashire's done 
main well in sojerin', but this'll cap everythin*. 
This night's work'll cost that there Kayser 
summat when the Barborough lads in t' trenches 
get to know o' it." 

'* That fellow's right," commented Mr. Bar- 
croft after the watchman had taken a by-road. 
** These Zeps. do very little military damage. 
They don't intimidate or terrify the people, 
except, perhaps, those in the actual district 
raided. The German bombs are like the dragon's 
teeth of mythology ; sown, they spring up as 



WHEN THE ZEPPELIN WAS OUT 45 

British soldiers, eager to avenge themselves 
upon the Kaiser's troops. If I had my way 
I'd run cheap excursions to the raided areas from 
Bristol, Exeter and other towns as yet not 
troubled with the Zeps. to let the people see 
the damage done to British homes. That 
would stir their imaginations and let 'em think 
strongly. Instead, all details of raids are 
kept, or are endeavoured to be kept, a profound 
secret by our wiseacres in authority. The 
report of the damage done is minimised — not 
that I would suggest making the news public 
as far as buildings of military importance are 
concerned — and the result is that the phlegmatic 
Briton who is not directly affected by the raid 
merely reads the bald newspaper account, 
mentally consigns the Government to perdition 
and forgets all about it." 

*' According to that American lecturer, Curtin, 
they do things better in France,'' added Ent- 
wistle. '* The French allow full descriptions of 
the Zeppelin raids in their country to be pub- 
lished, and the result is discouraging to the 
Huns. At the time we were referring to these 
raids taking place in the ' eastern counties,' 
when the Germans knew exactly where they 
had been. I shouldn't wonder if this night's 
affair is described as taking place on the East 
Coast or the South Midlands instead of within 
sight of the Irish Sea." 



46 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

*'And yet nothing did more to depress the 
Germans than the humorous and true accounts 
of the Zep. raids that were eventually allowed 
to appear in the British newspapers.' ' 

*' Except when we do bag half a dozen of 
them at one swoop/' added the vet. '' Mark 
my words, we'll get our own back with interest." 

'* What's the matter ? " asked Peter, noticing 
that his companion had reduced his pace and 
was Kmping slightly. 

'' Galled heel, worse luck," replied the vet. 
Even in the darkness Barcroft could discern 
his face twitching. '' But it's nothing. I'll 
stick it." 

'* Look here," declared Barcroft authorita- 
tively. There were times when the easy-going 
Peter could make himself obeyed. '' It's all 
jolly rot your carrying on. You'll be lame in 
another mile. You must stick to the original 
programme, and stop at my place. What's 
happened at Barborough has happened, and 
your presence there to-night won't mend matters. 
Besides, there's the telephone." 

Entwistle capitulated. In fact he was in 
great pain. The injury to his foot was more 
than he cared to admit. Not only was his 
heel badly chafed, but he had twisted his 
ankle on a loose stone. 

'* All right," he replied. '* But suppose I 
can't get through on the 'phone ? " 



WHEN THE ZEPPELIN WAS OUT 47 

" You will," said Barer oft confidently. " Now 
hang on to my arm. It's only a couple of hun- 
dred yards up the hill." 

The last two hundred yards was a pilgrimage 
of pain. The approach was along a narrow 
lane paved with irregular slabs and enshrouded 
with trees that threw the path into even greater 
gloom than the high road. The blackness was 
so intense that it appeared to have weight — 
to press upon their eyeballs like a tightly 
adjusted bandage. Away to the left came the 
gurgle of a mountain stream as it flowed swiftly 
through a deep cutting in the rocks. 

*' Here we are," said Peter at last. 

*' Yes," agreed Entwistle. '' I know the 
place." 

They were now clear of the trees. Looming 
mistily against the dark sky was a long, rambling, 
two-storeyed building surrounded by a roughly- 
built stone wall. The latticed windows were 
heavily curtained. Not a light nor a sound 
came from the isolated dwelling. 

*' So Billy hasn't turned up yet," remarked 
Barcroft senior as he fumbled for his key. 
" Why, by Jove, the door's wide open !" 



CHAPTER V 

AT LADYBIRD FOLD 

" Come in," he continued, assisting his com- 
panion over the threshold. '' I won't switch a 
light on in the hall until I close the door. Jolly 
queer about it being open. There'll be a court of 
enquiry in the morning.'* 

A violent scratching upon the study door 
attracted his attention. 

'* That's Ponto and Nan — my sheep-dogs," 
he explained. '' Wonder why they are locked 
in ? They ought to be in the kennels. They're 
quiet enough : they won't bite." 

Entwistle smiled grimly. Peter's idea of 
quiet seemed rather peculiar, for the animals 
were barking furiously and redoubling their 
attacks upon the door. 

'' The paintwork ? " echoed Barer oft in an- 
swer to his companion's enquiry, as he pro- 
ceeded to hang up his cap and coat. *' Oh, 
that won't matter. You see, there's a curtain 
on the inside and that hides the marks." 

He opened the door of the study, to be greeted 
with a blaze of dazzling light and a couple of 

48 



AT LADYBIRD FOLD 49 

shaggy-haired dogs, who hurled themselves upoD 
him in an ecstasy of delight. 

'' Down, down, both of you ! Kennel up/* 
ordered their master. 

The dogs obeyed, Ponto retiring to the 
limited space between the pedestals of the 
roll-top desk while Nan bounded into the large 
arm-chair by the fire. 

''That's better,'' said Barcroft composedly, 
glancing at the desk to see if any letter had 
arrived. '' Now take it easy for a bit. There's 
the telephone. I'll scout round and see what's 
going. Whisky ? Good ! Excuse me a minute 
while I look for some stuff for your foot." 

Philip Entwistle settled himself in the only 
vacant arm-chair and took stock of his immedi- 
ate surroundings. The study was a fairly 
large room, measuring, roughly, thirty feet by 
twenty. On the side facing south were three 
broad casement windows, now heavily cur- 
tained with a light-proof fabric. The door was 
on the eastern side, opening into a spacious hall. 
The remaining walls were blank except for the 
old-fashioned fireplace. Oak panelling and mas- 
sive beams of the same material — wood that 
had been in position for close on three hundred 
years — gave an old-time appearance to the room. 
The furniture was hardly in keeping with the 
place. Presumably it was for utility. The 
large pedestal, roll-top desk occupied a propor- 
4 



50 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

tionate position against the west wall. Almost 
every available bit of wall-space was taken up 
with book-cases groaning under the weight of 
volumes of all sizes and ages, from the leather- 
bound tomes of the late Stuart period to the 
modern '' sevenpenny.'* Not a picture was in 
evidence. Instead, above the book-shelves the 
walls were adorned with pieces of medieval 
armour and weapons ranging from the Eliza- 
bethan musketoon and pike to the latest type 
of magazine rifle. Above the fireplace was a 
seven-feet-scale model of a super-Dreadnought 
that, in its sombre garb of battleship grey, con- 
trasted strongly with the black and yellow 
striped hull and dun-coloured canvas of an 
eighteenth century frigate that adorned another 
part of the room. 

The study, like the rest of the house, was 
lighted by electricity — a discovery that Peter 
Barcroft had made with huge satisfaction. It 
was, indeed, a rare chance to hit upon an 
isolated dwelling, in a commanding, lofty 
situation, well-built and supplied with water, 
gas and electricity. The secret lay in the fact 
that at one time it had been the residence of 
the manager of the nearest bleaching works. 
Had it been daylight one would have noticed 
a line of hefty posts supporting a cable-system 
that ran up hill and down dale almost as far 
as the eye could reach. At certain intervals 



AT LADYBIRD FOLD 51 

the supports bore a large board on which was 
painted in bold letters : '* Dangerous — 10,000 
volts " — a warning to the youth of the district 
who might feel tempted to fly kites over the 
wires or even to climb the poles out of sheer 
exuberance of juvenile spirits. 

It was from this cable by means of a " trans- 
former " that Ladybird Fold derived its supply 
of electric current, and, as it happened, the 
works had not received any warning that night 
of the raid — a circumstance that contributed 
greatly to the comfort of Peter Barer of t's den. 

From his chair Entwistle glanced at his 
host's desk and shuddered. I he cover had 
been left rolled back, disclosing a veritable 
chaos of papers, reference books, writing- 
materials, pipes and two large tobacco-jars. 
The pigeon-holes were crammed to bursting- 
point with a medley of papers, particularly the 
one labelled *' Letters to be answered.*' From 
another gaped the crumpled ends of what were 
evidently a number of cheques that awaited a 
favourable opportunity on the part of the busy 
author (he put in an occasional two hours a 
day, be it remembered) to be paid into the 
Barborough Bank. A thick layer of dust 
covered the desk, although everything else in 
the room was fairly clear if the patches of 
tobacco ash on the carpet square were not taken 
into account. It was part of Peter's creed to 



52 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

knock out his pipes on the heel of his boot and 
deposit their remains on the floor, convenient 
ash-trays notwithstanding. For one thing it 
kept the moth away. 

The dust, too, upon the desk was the result 
of studied design. The '' help " from the 
village — a temporary importation pending Mrs. 
Barcroft*s return and provided she was success- 
ful in her distracting quest — had been strictly 
enjoined, browbeaten and threatened with 
divers pains and penalties, not to disturb Peter*s 
papers. With luck he could find what he 
wanted in five minutes ; without, in an hour. 
That is, if the desk had been left severely 
alone. Otherwise, should the timorous female 
dare to " side-up " — a Lancashire expression 
that puzzled Barer oft tremendously at first — 
the quest would be almost hopeless. 

Had Philip Entwistle been more inquisitive 
and observant he might have noticed that on 
the top of the pile of literary debris were two 
objects that showed no signs of a coating of 
dust. One was a bound volume entitled The 
Theories of Modern Naval Warfare — a work of 
Peter's that had been responsible for a price 
being set upon the head of that as yet uncon- 
scious-of-the-fact w^orthy. The other was a 
batch of manuscript comprising his nearly com- 
pleted book The Great Reckoning — and After. 

The reappearance of his host with a tray 



AT LADYBIRD FOLD 53 

bearing a tantalus, syphon and a couple of 
glasses, cut short Entwistle's casual survey. 

'' How goes it now ? '* asked Barer oft. 
'' Telephoned ? " 

'' You certainly said, ' There's the telephone,' " 
replied his guest, '' but failed to explain to my 
satisfaction where ' there ' is. Consequently 
that solemn and protracted rite has not yet 
been performed." 

'* Sorry,'' said Peter with a laugh. '' My 
mistake entirely. I ought to have mentioned 
that that convenient but much maligned in- 
strument is in the hall. There's a great-coat 
hanging over it : my device to deaden the 
nerve-racking sound of the bell." 

Entwistle shuffled across the room. In spite 
of the fact that he was now wearing a pair of 
his host's capacious slippers the injured foot 
occasioned him more pain than while he was 
on his way to the house. 

He left the door ajar. Barcroft could hear 
him thumping the as yet unresponsive machine. 
Quite five minutes passed before his guest 
could '' get on." 

'* Number four four five, Barborough . . . 
what — engaged ... no reply ? Well, try 
again." 

More violent manipulation of the telephone 
accompanied by a flow of forcible language 
resulted in the desired object be jig attained. 



54 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

*' That you, Vi ? . . . Yes . . . yes ... no, 
I wasn't injured . . . what's that ? Church 
Street knocked out of existence. . . . Not 
nervous ? That's good. Vm speaking from 
Ladybird Fold, Tarleigh. Tell Jarvis to run 
the car over for me in the morning. Yes, about 
ten. Good-night." 

Returning to his study he found Peter at his 
desk. 

** Needn't have worried so much about my 
wife," he announced. '' She's quite plucky 
over it. She even chipped me at having missed 
the excitement." 

Barcroft did not reply. He was regarding 
his desk with a distinctly preoccupied air. 

'' Dash the L.L.P." he exclaimed, addressing 
the room in general rather than his guest. 
" I'll swear she's been meddling with my papers. 
And she left that door open. I'll let her know 
who rules this show." 

'' Who's L.L.P. ? " enquired Entwistle. 

His host laughed. 

'' Merely the ' help,' " he replied. " Carter's 
her name. I call her Little Liver Pill — she 
reminds me of one. L.L.P. for short, you 
know." 

'* Might be your friend Andrew Norton," 
suggested the other. 

'' By Jove, yes ! I hadn't thought of that," 
was the reply. '* All the same, I don't think 



AT LADYBIRD FOLD 55 

he would touch my desk. It's just likely that 
in a preoccupied moment (although as a rule 
he isn't given that way) he may have gone 
home and left the lights switched on and the 
door open. Hulloa, this looks queer ! I wonder 
if Norton got into a funk over the Zep. ? '* 

Barcroft pointed to a pipe lying on the 
mantelpiece. It was freshly filled and the 
tobacco was slightly charred, indicating that the 
owner had been interrupted in the act of lighting 
up. 

** His pipe," he continued. " And he seems 
a fairly methodical fellow, not likely to leave 
anything behind. Hope he's all right. If it 
wasn't for the fact that I've had a long tramp 
and it's close on one thirty I'd run across to 
his place." 

'* What sort of a man is he ? " enquired 
Entwistle. 

'* Decent — quite. Nothing of the bore about 
him, or I would have choked him off very 
quickly," replied Barcroft grimly. *' Quite in- 
formal, and diilerent from the ordinary type of 
caller when a fellow comes into a fresh district. 
You know the sort — stiff-necked blighters of 
both sexes who pay formal calls for the sole 
purpose of finding out who you are, what you 
are and what you've got. In my case, I sup- 
pose, they expect to find a sort of untamed 
curiosity : that's how they regard literary men. 



66 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

I believe. But my time is too precious to 
waste in that way, so I let them know it pretty 
quickly. Ah, there are the trains running 
again,*' he added as a dull rumble was borne to 
their ears. '' Zep. show's over for to-night. 
Keen on bed ? " 

'' Not very," replied Entwistle. " Are you 

'* I'm going to wait up lor Billy," said the 
fond parent . ' ' Wonder what the young bounder 
is doing now ? " 

As he spoke came the sounds of quick, firm 
footsteps up the cobbled path. Before Peter 
could get across the room the door was thrown 
open and Flight-Sub-lieutenant Barcroft, his 
face blackened with smoke and dust and his 
great-coat bearing signs of rough usage, burst 
into the room. 

'' Cheer-o, pater ! " he exclaimed. Sorry 
I'm late. Some night, eh, what ? " 



CHAPTER VI 

KIDNAPPED 

It will now be necessary to set back the hands 
of the clock to the hour of ten on the evening 
of the Zeppelin's visit to Barborough. 

At that hour Mr. Andrew Norton was knock- 
ing on the door of Ladybird Fold, and vainly 
endeavouring to restrain the boisterous atten- 
tions of Ponto and Nan. 

'* Good evening, Mrs. Carter," he said as the 
door was opened revealing the domestic stopgap 
with her head covered by a shawl — the recog- 
nised head-dress of the working-class women of 
industrial Lancashire. '* Any one at home ? *' 

*' Only mysen, master,'' was the reply. '* An' 
in another minute you would be findin' me 
gone. Mr. Barcroft he's out, but he'll not be 
long, I'm thinkin'. An' young Mr. Barcroft — 
'im as is in the Navy — is expected home to-night. 
But come in, you're kindly welcome." 

" And at what time is young Mr. Barcroft 
expected ? " he asked in a tone that implied 
mild curiosity, as he stepped over the threshold. 

5'' 



58 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

" Fm not for sayin* for certain. Master had 
a telegram. You'll not be wantin' anything 
sir ?'' 

Norton shook his head. Accompanied by the 
two dogs he entered the study and switched 
on the lights. As he did so he heard the door 
slam and Mrs. Carter's retreating footsteps on 
the hard path. 

He knew how to make himself at home during 
his friend's absence. He was one of those men 
who have the happy knack of forming quick 
friendships, and the somewhat easy-going Peter 
was a good subject in that respect. 

Andrew Norton was a man of forty-five, 
although he looked considerably younger. He 
was of medium height, full-featured and in- 
clined to stoutness. A keen motorist, he had 
attracted Barcroft's attention on the very 
first day of his taking possession of " The 
Croft," when he was endeavouring to take a 
large car up the difficult lane beyond Ladybird 
Fold. Since there was plenty of accommodation 
in the outbuilding utilised as a garage at Bar- 
croft's house Peter's suggestion that it would 
be easier for the newcomer to The Croft to 
keep his car there and thus save a steep and 
loose ascent was accepted with profuse gratitude. 

From that moment the friendship ripened. 
Almost every evening after the literary man's 
strenuous labours were completed for the day 



KIDNAPPED 5D 

Andrew Norton would drop in for a smoke 
and a yarn. 

*' Rotten nuisance ! " mused the hostless guest 
as he settled himself in an easy chair. '' If 
only I knew what time he was returning. The 
uncertainty will probably make a regular mess 
of present arrangements." 

It might have been idle curiosity that prompted 
him to cross over to the desk and examine 
Peter's uncompleted work ; sheer anxiety that 
led him to the open window to listen intently 
for the sound of his absent friend's footsteps. 

Through the unciurtained window three shafts 
of brilliant light were flung upon the closely- 
cropped lawn, the limit of the rays being de- 
fined by a thick hedge dividing the lawn from 
the rose-garden. 

'' No signs yet/' he muttered, as he glanced 
at the clock for the twentieth time. '' Friend 
Barcroft's regrettable absence is spoiling my 
evening. I'll get back to The Croft." 

He drew the curtains with deliberate care, so 
that no stray ray of light should escape. Light- 
ing restrictions were lax in that part of Lan- 
cashire, as the twinkling glimmers from the 
houses in the valley testified ; for in the district 
where he had previously lived for two years 
there were drastic observances on that score, and 
now the habit of conforming to the requirements 
of the authorities was not lightly to be dropped. 



60 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

" ril give him five minutes more/' he solilo- 
quised as he drew a pipe from his pocket and 
charged it with great deliberation. This he 
proceeded to light, making use of a paper spill. 
Here he showed a marked contrast to the easy- 
going methods of the occupier of Ladybird Fold. 
In spite of their high price, Peter invariably 
used matches — and plenty of them. Usually 
the hearth was Uttered with the burnt-out 
stumps, for Barer oft always had a pipe in his 
mouth when he was writing. It might go out 
twenty times before the tobacco was expended, 
but every time a fresh match was struck and 
flung away to augment the already numerous 
accumulation in the fireplace. 

Just then the two dogs sat up and barked. 
Norton started nervously. He was only just 
beginning to get used to the sturdy, shaggy 
animals. 

'' Quiet ! " he shouted. 

A peremptory knock sounded on the door. 
The still burning spill fell from the man's 
fingers. He made his way into the hall, shutting 
the study door upon the dogs. Vainly he 
groped for the switch operating the front door 
light. 

*' Who's there ? " he demanded. 

" Telegram for Mr. Barcroft," replied a deep 
voice. 

Had Norton paused to consider the likelihood 



KIDNAPPED 61 

of a telegram being delivered at a very late 
hour in a remote country district he might 
have saved himself from a great deal of personal 
inconvenience. But he did not. 

He threw open the door. His eyes, still 
dazzled by the quick transition from the brilliant 
light within to the intense darkness without, 
stared vacantly into the night, while his right 
hand groped furtively for the expected orange- 
coloured envelope. 

As he did so a pair of powerful hands grasped 
his ankles. His involuntary exclamation of 
mingled astonishment and indignation was 
stifled by a thick cloth twisted over his mouth 
and round his head, while simultaneously his 
arms were pinioned to his sides. 

Unable to move a limb, much less to struggle, 
he found himself lifted from the ground and 
borne away as helpless as an infant. 

'' Fools ! '' he spluttered. '' Fools ! You'll 
be sorry for this." 

Whether his captors heard his muffled pi:o- 
tests or not they paid no heed save to give the 
cloth that encircled his head an extra twist. 
The pressure upon his nose was painful. He 
had difficulty in breathing, so, realising that his 
stifled exclamations were futile, he wisely held 
his peace from a vocal point of view, although 
inwardly he was raging furiously. 

He could hear the boots of his captors clatter- 



e& BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

ing on the cobbles until the crisp-sounding 
footfalls told him that the men had gained the 
cinder path on the east side of the house. Then, 
with considerable effort on the part of his bearers, 
he was lifted up a flight of four stone steps, 
beyond which, he knew, was an extensive grass- 
field that rose gradually for the next half mile. 

Grunting and obviously short of breath the 
men trudged stolidly onwards for perhaps 
nearly two hundred yards. Once Norton thought 
fit to make a sudden effort and wriggle from his 
captors' grasp, but the attempt ended dis- 
astrously to himself. Brutally they bumped 
him upon the ground. The shock to the spinal 
system was excruciating, but it had the desired 
effect. The prisoner's spirit of resistance was 
broken ; even the stern mandate, ** Quiet, or 
you are a dead man," was unnecessary. 

The scarf or cloth that enveloped his head 
had slipped during the struggle. He could 
now see. Either his kidnappers had not noticed 
the fact or else they regarded it as of no con- 
sequence. 

He could discern the faces and upper portions 
of the bodies of the two men. They were tall 
burly fellows dressed in black oilskins. In 
spite of their powerful physique they were 
breathing stertorously ; they reeked of petrol. 

Another fifty yards and they came to a halt. 
Norton turned his head and saw what appeared 



KIDNAPPED 63 

at first sight to be the dark grey body of a 
motor-car. It was quivering under the applica- 
tion of some unseen influence, yet there was no 
purr of internal mechanism to justify the belief 
that it possessed self-contained machinery. 

'* Lash that schweinhund's ankles, Pfeil,'' 
ordered one of the fellows in German. '' That is 
right ; now do you enter first and Til heave the 
English fool up so that you can get him inside." 

'' Now is the dangerous time,'* commented 
his companion as he scrambled through a narrow 
aperture. 

'* It is ever a dangerous time with us/* re- 
joined the other gloomily. 

'* Ah, yes ; but now ? Supposing the wire is 
insufiicient to take the strain ? '* 

'* It will bear thrice our total weight," replied 
the first speaker, '* frail though it looks. No 
fear of that breaking. It is that highly-charged 
electric cable that worries me. We must have 
landed nearer to it than we should have done, 
yet it looks further away on the map." 

The fellow completed his difficult task of 
lifting Norton into the interior of the covered- 
in car — the observation room of a Zeppelin 
floating motionless five hundred feet or so over- 
head. 

The commander of the giant aircraft had 
successfully carried out a daring manoeuvre with 
the ultimate object of taking prisoner the man 



64 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

on whom his imperial master the '' All-Highest " 
had set a price for his capture. Taking advant- 
age of an almost imperceptible breeze and 
knowing his position to an almost dead certainty 
by means of exact cross-bearings afforded by 
three reservoirs, conspicuous even in the dark- 
ness, he had caused to be lowered the aluminium 
observation car. 

In flight this contrivance is slung close under 
the after part of the Zeppelin, but when neces- 
sary it can be lowered by means of a fine but 
enormously strong flexible steel wire to a 
maximum distance of two thousand feet beneath 
the giant envelope. Thus it is possible for a 
Zeppelin to remain hidden in a bank of clouds 
and lower the observation car to within a few 
hundred feet of the ground. Its comparatively 
small size and inconspicuous coloiu" would render 
it invisible even at that short distance, and 
give the observer an uninterrupted view of the 
country. By means of a telephone he could 
then communicate with the commander of the 
airship and indicate the objects singled out for 
attack. 

On this occasion the aluminium box was 
lowered till it touched the ground. The two 
men purposely told off for the work in hand had 
anchored the car, thereby keeping the Zeppelin 
stationary also. In the event of a surprise the 
airship's crew would unhesitatingly sever the 



KIDNAPPED 65 

wire and leave the car and their two comrades 
to their fate. 

And now most of this particular enterprise 
had been carried out. The supposed object of 
their attentions lay gagged and bound within 
the aluminium cage. All that remained to be 
done was to break out the grapnel and signal 
to the men in the Zeppelin to wind in the steel 
cable. 

'* All ready ? *' enquired Pfeil through the 
telephone. *' Good ! When I give the signal 
will you forge ahead to the north-east ? Why ? 
Because we are much too close to the high 
tension cable which Herr Leutnant knows of.'* 

He leant through an aperture in the side of 
the cradle and listened intently. At the first 
sound of the airship's propellers he jerked a 
tripping-line smartly. The fluke of the grapnel 
folded as he did so, and the car, no longer held 
captive, slid jerkily over the grass. 

'' Up ! " telephoned the German. 

The next instant Norton felt himself being 
lifted through the air as the car ascended swiftly 
at a rate of five feet a second. In less than two 
minutes the cradle's supplementary movement 
ceased. It was hauled hard up against the 
immense bulk of the Zeppelin and secured with 
additional lashings. 

The wind was now shrieking through the 
lattice work of the airship, as gathering speed she 
5 



66 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

flew through the still air at a rate of nearly 
fifty miles an hour, or a little more than half her 
maximum speed. 

It was cold — horribly cold. Lightly clad and 
coming from a warm room the prisoner felt the 
change acutely. He shivered in spite of his 
efforts to the contrary. 

Gripped by the ankles he found himself being 
dragged like a sack of flour from the detachable 
car to the V-shaped gangway connecting two 
of the fixed gondolas. The lashings securing 
his lower limbs were cast off, and, thrust forward 
by the powerful Pf eil, he was made to walk along 
the narrow corridor. 

*' Here is the Englishman, Herr Leutnant,'* 
announced the German addressing a short, 
corpulent officer who stood by the bomb- 
dropping apparatus in the centre of the gondola. 

'* Good ! '' was the appreciative reply. Ober- 
leutnant Juhus von Loringhoven squirmed in 
anticipation of winning more than a half of the 
promised guerdon. A share — a considerable 
share unfortunately — was owing to a certain 
individual who, acting as an agent of the German 
Government, had given valuable aid in snaring 
the proscribed Englishman. His assistance was 
necessary, of course, but that meant a sensible 
reduction of the sum of paper money with 
which von Loringhoven hoped to restore the 
fortunes of his impoverished house. 



KIDNAPPED 67 

" Good ! " he repeated. '' Remove that 
covering and let me look at the pig." 

Pfeil obeyed smartly. With a savage jerk 
he exposed the face of his captive. 

*' Utter idiot ! *' shouted Andrew Norton in 
German. '' Imbecile ! YouVe blundered and 
spoilt everything.*' 



CHAPTER VII 

THE RAID 

Ober-leutnant Julius von Loringhoven re- 
coiled a couple of paces in sheer amazement. 
The compartment in which he stood was strictly 
limited in point of size, or he might have stepped 
back even more, so great was his consternation. 
For some seconds he stood with his shoulders 
against the aluminium bulkhead, his small eyes 
protruding to their utmost capacity. 

** Von Eitelwurmer ! " he gurgled at last. 
" What does this mean ? '' 

** It means,'* retorted Andrew Norton furi- 
ously, '* that your men have wrecked every- 
thing. It is their duty to wreck everything 
English, I admit, but they have overreached 
themselves." 

" I am sorry," said the ober-leutnant humbly, 
though the apology needed an effort. *' The 
culprits wiU be duly pimished." 

'* And serve them right," interrupted the 
kidnapped man. '* But that will not mend 
matters. Our plans are completely upset; 

68 



THE RAID 69 

Barcroft will take warning ; there will be no 
plausible excuse for my sudden departure — Ach, 
it is intolerable. Is it possible to set me 
down ? '* 

Von Loringhoven shook his head. 

" Impossible/' he replied. '* You must re- 
turn with us to the Fatherland. Meanwhile I 
must take steps to justify the presence of this 
war-machine over the hated coimtry.'* 

Siegfried von Eitelwurmer was one of the 
German super-spies — a class far and above the 
host of ordinary spies that, in spite of the utmost 
vigilance on the part of the British government, 
still continue their activities although in a 
restricted form. To all outward appearance 
he was English born and bred. His mannerisms 
were entirely so. Even in his most excitable 
moods, for Teutonic stohdity was almost a 
stranger to him, he would never betray by word 
or gesture the fact that he was of Hunnish birth 
and sympathies. When he spoke in English 
his inflexion was as pure as a typical Midlander ; 
his knowledge of British habits and customs 
was profound. In short, he was one of the 
most dangerous type of German agents that 
ever set foot on British soil. 

It will be unnecessary to detail his past activi- 
ties, which almost invariably he carried out suc- 
cessfully and without giving rise to suspicion, 
even at times when the espionage mania was at 



70 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

its height, and BiHons were being arrested and 
detained on suspicion for various sHght acts of 
indiscretion that they had committed 13. pure 
ignorance. A man might in all good faith take 
photographs of a place of national interest ; an 
artist might make a sketch in the grounds of his 
own house — and be promptly haled before the 
magistrates and fined. The '' powers-that-be " 
seem to be blind to the fact that a trained spy 
would not attempt to use a conspicuous camera. 
An instnmient of the vest-pocket type would 
serve his purpose equally well and with little 
chance of detection. 

It was the Kaiser's manifesto relating to the 
capture of the '' dangerous '' Peter Barer oft that 
turned the course of von Eitelwurmer's activities 
in the direction of Ladybird Fold — not wholly 
for the sake of the pecuniary reward, but with 
the idea of gaining additional kudos at the 
hands of his Imperial master. 

The spy had little difficulty in tracing Bar- 
croft's movements from the time he vacated 
Riversdale House in the village of Alder dene. 
The information that his quarry had removed 
to Tarleigh in Lancashire he had communicated 
to Berlin, but owing to a delay the news was 
not in time to prevent the Hun airman, von 
Biilow und Helferich, making his ill-fated flight 
to the south-eastern part of England. 

Von Eitelwurmer's method of communicating 



THE RAID 71 

with Berlin was simplicity itself, and as such 
ran less chance of detection than if he had 
resorted to elaborate and intricate means. 

He would obtain catalogues from manu- 
facturers living in the same town in which he 
had taken up his temporary abode. On the 
pages he would write with invisible ink — or 
even milk or lemon, both of which when dried 
naturally show no trace of their presence — his 
reports, taking the additional precaution ol 
using a cipher which he could retain mentally 
and thus do away with the risk of incriminating 
documents. 

The next step was to get possession of a 
printed wrapper bearing the name and address 
of the firm in question. The catalogue, en- 
closed in the wrapper, was then sent to a pseudo 
Englishman living in Holland, who, almost 
needless to say, was a German agent. 

These reports were then sent in duplicate, 
one preceding the other in the space of three 
days. Fortunately or otherwise — according to 
the standpoint taken by interested parties — the 
first secret dispatch related to the movements 
of Peter Barcroft was lost in a Dutch mail-boat 
that a German submarine had sent to the 
bottom. The second resulted in Ober-leutnant 
von Loringhoven being dispatched on a Zeppelin 
raid with the primary intention of kidnapping 
the proscribed Enghshman, 



72 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

Julius von Loringhoven was an officer of the 
Imperial German Navy. In his youth he had 
served before the mast on board several British 
coasters with the idea of gaining intimate local 
knowledge of the harbours of the land that in 
due course would be an integral part of the vast 
and unassailable German Empire ; for, like 
thousands of Germans he held the firm belief 
that the Emperor Wilhelm II. was the rightful 
heir to the British throne by virtue of his descent 
through the eldest child of the late Queen 
Victoria. 

It was on one of these coasting trips that von 
Loringhoven — then a stripling of seventeen — 
was within an ace of losing his life. Ordered 
aloft on a winter's night to furl the topsail of 
the schooner *' Pride o' Salcombe/' he was 
benumbed with the piercing cold as he lay 
along the lee yard-arm. A burly British sea- 
man saved him just as he was on the point of 
relaxing his hold. Gathering him in his arms the 
man brought him down on deck, Httle knowing 
what manner of young reptile he was nursing in 
his bosom. If von Loringhoven had had any 
spark of gratitude it had been smothered by 
the passion of '' f rightfulness " as expressed 
by dropping powerful explosives upon the 
defenceless civil population of the country to 
one of whose sons he owed his life. 

A brief training at Friedrichshaven was 



THE RAID 73 

followed by an exacting period at Borkum 
which quaUfied von Loringhoven for a series 
of flights across the North Sea to the East 
Coast of England. As yet he was merely a 
tyro, gaining practical experience under a 
veteran Zeppelin commander. But at last the 
day came when he was given sole charge of one 
of the Kaiser's giant gas-bags. 

*' Go and raid the counties of Yorkshire and 
Lincolnshire/' were his superior officer's in- 
structions. '' That's a fairly safe game. You'll 
find little more than dummy guns against you. 
Acquit yourself well and you will be given an 
opportimity to take part in the forthcoming 
gigantic raid upon London." 

This was before the time when, as the Huns 
knew to their cost, the '* swarm of hornets " 
promised by a former First Lord of the Ad- 
miralty proved their existence. 

And now, after twelve months of active 
Zeppelin service von Loringhoven was over 
Lancashire. One part of his mission foiled he 
had yet to exhibit Teutonic frightfulness to the 
dwellers of the large manufacturing town of 
Barborough. 

The second in command of the Zeppelin was 
an unter-leutnant of the name of Klick. It was 
one of his triumphs to announce that he had 
been arrested in England as a spy. That was 
in those distant pre-war times. He had been 



74 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

*' spotted '* by a sentry while in the act of 
sketching a fortification in the neighbourhood 
of an important naval station, arrested and 
charged at a police-court. Committed to the 
County Assizes he was politely told by the judge 
that espionage was dishonourable. Klick smiled 
inwardly. To him spying was part of an im- 
portant German military training — an organised 
procedure. Nevertheless he was agreeably sur- 
prised when he was allowed to go with the ad- 
monition, *' Don't do it again.'* 

Fortunately for Great Britain such misplaced 
leniency is a thing of the past. On Unter-leut- 
nant Klick it was entirely thrown away. His 
typically German mind read the clemency as 
a sign of weakness. He came from a country 
where the only strength is '' force majeur." 

'' Well, Herr von Eitelwurmer," exclaimed 
the ober-leutnant after he had recovered from 
his surprise. '* If you wish to see how our in- 
comparable Zeppelins set to work you had 
better station yourself at this observation 
scuttle. I will lend you a fur coat.'* 

'* Pity you hadn't lent me one long before," 
growled the spy, as one of the crew helped him 
into the warm garment. '' Yours is a cold 
business, von Loringhoven." 

** Not when we get to work," corrected the 
other with a grim laugh. " Excitement stirs 
our l^ood to boiling point.'* 



THE RAID 75 

A telephone bell tinkled softly. The com- 
mander took up the receiver. 

'' Ach ! " he replied. '' That is good/' 

The message was from Unter-leutnant Klick, 
announcing that the airship was immediately 
over the large town of Barborough. Von Lor- 
inghoven glanced at the altitude indicator. It 
registered 2,000 metres — too great for practical 
purposes where no danger was to be anticipated 
from anti-aircraft guns. The speed of the 
Zeppelin was now less than ten miles an hour, 
just sufficient to keep her stationary over her 
objective. 

The commander gave an order. A man on 
duty in the gondola thrust down a lever. In- 
stantly the gas in several of the ballonets was 
withdrawn and forced imder great pressure 
into a strong metal tank. This answered to the 
old-fashioned method of releasing gas from a 
balloon by means of an escape valve, but with 
a vast difference. The hydrogen was not 
wasted ; it was merely stored for further service. 

Down dropped the airship to less than a 
thousand feet. Von Eitelwurmer, leaning over 
the sill of the large scuttle, peered downwards. 
By means of a pair of powerful night-glasses he 
could locate his position with great accuracy. 
He recognised most of the conspicuous land- 
marks of Barborough, in spite of their un- 
familiar appearance when viewed from a height. 



76 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

There was the town-hall — a pile of smoke- 
blackened stonework. The railway station with 
its web of steel lines radiating in four different 
directions ; the huge factories, working day 
and night at high pressure ; the main thorough- 
fares, rendered even more pronounced by the 
blue flashes of the electric tram-cars. The 
Zeppelin had the town at its mercy. 

Ober-leutnant von Loringhoven was also 
examining the scene beneath him. He had no 
occasion to consult the spy. He knew quite as 
much as von Eitelwurmer of the topography of 
the district ; thanks to the accurate air-maps 
supplied by the German government. 

** Now, watch ! '' he exclaimed, at the same 
time holding up four fingers as a sign to the 
airman at the firing apparatus to release the 
missiles of destruction. 

Von Eitelwurmer held his breath. He clearly 
heard the four metallic clicks as the man re- 
leased the bombs at quick intervals. Seven 
seconds after the first had left the dropping 
apparatus a lurid flash threw the underside of 
the enormous envelope into an expanse of re- 
flected light. A roar like the concentration of 
half a dozen thunder peals tore the air, followed 
by the rumbling of falling masonry. The 
other explosions took place in rapid succession, 
causing the ZeppeUn to sway and rock in the 
violently disturbed atmosphere. 



THE RAID 77 

The place where the bombs had burst was 
hidden in a thick pall of smoke and dust. 
Tongues of red and yellow flames flickered 
through the vapour. 

*' Two more/* ordered von Loringhoven. 

By this time the Zeppelin, forging ahead, was 
nearly a quarter of a mile from the scene of her 
first attempt. The objective was a purely con- 
jectural one, for the missiles burst in a street 
in one of the poorer quarters of the town. 

*' Two more ! " 

The two bombs were released, but only one 
exploded. The other failed to detonate, but 
the raid was over. In a little over a minute and 
a half death had been poured upon the unpre- 
pared town. 

** I can claim the big munitions factory," 
remarked the ober-leutnant as he telephoned 
to the navigating gondola for full speed. '* Those 
first four had it to a nicety. The others — well. 
they did some damage.*' 

The spy smiled. 

'* Yes ; it all helps,*' he said. " Frightful- 
ness always scores." 

'' ReaUsing, as we do, that every English 
baby is a potential enemy to Germany," added 
von Loringhoven. ''Not necessarily in a mili- 
tary sense, but in the forthcoming commercial 
war." 

Von Eitelwurmer glanced at his companion. 



78 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

" The forthcoming commercial war/' he re- 
peated. '* Our Emperor will see to it that there 
will be no British Empire to threaten our 
mercantile supremacy.'* 

The commander of the Zeppelin shrugged his 
shoulders. 

'* I trust you are right/' he rejoined, ''but 
you do not realise the big task in front of us. 
These Englishmen are only just beginning to 
bestir themselves. We hoped to have beaten 
them long ago. Time is no longer on our side, 
and " 

Then, reaUsing that his digression was border- 
ing upon dangerous lines, he broke off. 

" And now, von Eitelwurmer, we are home- 
ward bound. In four hours I hope to shake 
hands with you on German soil.'' 

The spy merely grunted. He was thinking 
regretfully of his lost chance in the share of the 
twenty thousand marks. 



CHAPTER VIII 

'midst the scene of red ruin 

Five minutes before the fall of the first bomb, 
Flight-Sub-Heutenant Barcroft alighted from a 
tram-car in the market square of Barborough. 

The stopping of the railway service had upset 
his calculations, for instead of the train running 
into Barborough Station it had come to a stand- 
still at Wolderton, a little town five miles from 
his destination. 

*' Can't go no further yet awhile, sir,'' replied 
a porter in answer to the flight-sub's enquiry. 
'' They say as 'ow Zeps is about, though I fancy 
they won't come to Lancashire, sir. Don't 
hold wi' these silly scares mysen." 

** Where are we ? " asked Barcroft, striving 
vainly to read the name of the unlighted station. 

'' Wolderton, sir ; if you're for Barborough 
you can get a car just outside. They are 
runnin', Zep. or no Zep." 

The young officer alighted, made his way out 
of the station and boarded the first north- 
bound car, which in due course deposited him at 
Barborough — a stranger in a strange land. 

79 



80 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

'* For Tarleigh, sir ? " rejoined a policeman 
to his question. *' Matter o' four or six miles. 
No, sir, you'll not be findin' a taxi to-night, I 
fancy. Just you go along yon road, take first 
on your right then straight on till you come to 
Chumley Old Road. There you'll find a car 
that'll take you as far as Black Pit Brow, and 
it'll be forty minutes sharp walking to Tar- 
leigh." 

Somewhat bewildered Barcroft set out to 
follow the constable's directions. He found 
himself slipping on the rough and greasy setts, 
jostling people in the darkened streets, and 
barking his shins against obtrusive door steps. 
The road was a mean and narrow one — a short 
cut to a main thoroughfare. A dank unwhole- 
some smell permeated the misty air. It struck 
the yoimg officer as being worse than the atmo- 
sphere of the lower deck of a battleship battened 
down during a three-days' gale. 

Suddenly the darkness was rent by a terrific 
flash. The light was so dazzling that Barcroft 
was imder the impression that it came from 
the centre of the street. Stunned by the 
deafening crash he felt himself lurching against 
a wall, amidst a shower of broken glass. 

Another explosion followed and then two 
more. The flight-sub felt the wall of the house 
rock with the concussions. He was quite pre- 
pared to see the building collapse imder the 



'MIDST THE SCENE OF RED RUIN 81 

impact of the displaced air. Fragments of 
slates and tiles, mingled with shattered wood- 
work, hurtled overhead. Glass tinkled upon the 
setts. The rumble of falling masonry was added 
to the uproar, while flames shot up from a 
mound of debris that a brief instant earlier had 
been the homes of three English families, and 
threw a fitful glare upon the scene of destruction. 

'' Factory explosion, I suppose,'* thought 
Barcroft. '' Can't be a Zep., or I should have 
heard her engines/' 

He put his hand to his cheek. It was warm 
and moist. Blood was welling from a deep 
gash. He hardly noticed it. His attention was 
attracted by the shouts and screams of the 
terrified inhabitants of the neighbourhood — 
those whose houses having escaped annihilation 
but were within the danger zone, had fled pell- 
mell into the streets. 

Other crashes followed, but at a greater 
distance. 

** Then it is a Zep., by Jove ! " declared the 
young officer. For the first time he realised 
his helplessness. He was virtually one of the 
thousands of civilians unable to raise a hand in 
self-defence against the cowardly night-raider. 
A Tommy in a trench with only a rifle — an 
almost useless weapon against an aircraft of any 
description — has the satisfaction that he is 
armed. He is willing to take his chance. But 



82 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

here the townsfolk were utterly at a loss to 
defend themselves, and it was sorry consolation 
to be told by the authorities that the inhabitants 
of raided districts are only sharing the dangers 
to which the troops in the trenches are exposed. 

" If only I were up aloft with young Kirk- 
wood/' thought Barcroft. '' We'd make the 
beggars skip out of that gas-bag. Perhaps some 
day '' 

A woman, with her shawl wrapped tightly 
round her head, came hurrying in the opposite 
direction to which the stream of terrified people 
forced its way. 

'' Eh ! " she exclaimed. '' An' I left t'owld 
mon's supper on t* stove. TU be fair angry 
if 'tis spoilt." 

It was genuine anxiety. Even in the midst 
of the scene of destruction her thoughts dwelt 
upon the httle cares of everyday domesticity. 

With the sailor's typical eagerness to render 
aid Barcroft hurried down the street. Already 
the ebb-tide of fugitives was thinning and 
giving place to the flood-tide of willing helpers. 
Here and there men staggered and groaned, 
bleeding from serious wounds caused by the 
flying fragments of the deadly missiles. Here 
and there came others supporting or carrying 
victims unable to help themselves — stalw^art 
men, frail women and puny children reduced 
in the fraction of a second to mangled wrecks. 



'MIDST THE SCENE OF RED RUIN 83 

Pungent, asphyxiating fumes drifted slowly 
down the narrow thoroughfare, while the glare 
of the burning buildings threw an eerie light 
upon the surroundings. 

In the street not one panel of glass remained 
intact. Cast-iron stack-pipes were riddled with 
holes cut as cleanly as with a drill. Brick walls 
were perforated like paper ; stone-steps — the 
'' scouring " of which is a solemn rite with 
Lancashire folk — were chipped and splintered 
like glass. Doors were burst open as if with a 
sledge-hammer. And this was fifty yards or 
more from the scene of the actual explosion. 

Where the first bomb had fallen nothing 
remained of the house except a mound of 
smoking rubbish. The two adjoining buildings 
were cut away from top to bottom almost as 
evenly as if severed by a saw. In one the roof 
was exposed on the underside. The slates were 
still in position but riddled like a sieve. So 
violent was the force with which the flying 
fragments were projected upwards that the 
fragile slates were perforated before they 
had time to crack or be dislodged from the 
rafters. 

In the house on the other adjoining side the 
parting wall had vanished, leaving the remaining 
walls and flooring practically intact. A fire 
was still burning in the kitchen grate, and on 
it an iron pot was simmering. In front of the 



84 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

fire were three pairs of ''clogs'' of varying 
sizes — the footgear of a family that was no 
longer in existence. 

It was the same story. The raid from a 
military point of view was of no consequence. 
The munitions factory, in spite of von Loring- 
hoven's assurances, had been missed — missed 
handsomely. 

The flight-sub did not linger at this particular 
spot. Human aid was unavailing as far as 
those ruined houses were concerned, but on the 
other side of the street groans and cries of pain 
told him that here at least there was work to 
be done. 

Through an open doorway Barcroft dashed. 
The woodwork of the door was in splinters. 
Part of the floor had vanished. The place was 
full of smoke, while gas from a severed pipe was 
burning furiously. 

Grasping a large fragment of paving-stone the 
flight-sub battered the pipe. 

'' Iron, worse luck,'' he exclaimed. '* Wonder 
where the meter is ? " 

He discovered it just above the door. In 
the absence of a key to turn off the inflammable 
gas he knocked the lead pipe flat. The flame 
began to die down until it gave a fairly safe 
illumination. 

Up the rickety stairs the young officer made 
his way. With smarting eyes and irritating 



'MIDST THE SCENE OF RED RUIN 85 

throat he groped through the stifling smoke, 
guided by the cries of the injured victims. The 
room was feebly lighted by a nightlight set in 
a basin of water. The light flickered in the 
breeze that swept in through the glazeless 
window, while its intensity was even more 
diminished by the eddying smoke. Yet it was 
sufficient to enable Barcroft to take in his 
surroundings. 

The ceiling had fallen. Plaster and broken 
glass littered the floor, and every object pre- 
sented a flat, face-upward surface. On the 
walls were crude prints hanging at grotesque 
angles and ripped by flying fragments. Pieces 
of broken furniture were everywhere in evidence. 

In one corner of the room was a bed. One 
leg had been torn off, causing it to touch the 
floor. On the bed was a grey-haired woman, 
groaning feebly and with her forehead dabbled 
in blood. 

She opened her eyes as Barcroft approached, 
then raising one hand pointed to the side of the 
bed. There was a cradle that had hitherto 
escaped his notice, and in it was a baby of but 
a few months old. Although the old woman 
could not speak she made it known that the 
rescuer should first save her grandchild. 

Even in that scene of desolation Barcroft 
could not bring himself to lift the baby from 
its cot. Dimly he fancied that he might harm 



86 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

it. He hadn't the faintest notion how to hold 
an infant of tender years. 

Lifting the cot bodily he bore it with its con- 
tents dowTi the stairs and out into the night. 
By this time other rescuers w^ere hard at work. 
Two of them seeing the flight-sub issuing from 
the house came up to him. 

*' D'ye want a hand, sir ? " they asked. 

The uniform imparted an air of authority, 
and instinctively the men realised the fact. 
True the naval rig was foreign to them. For 
all they knew Barcroft might be a sanitary 
inspector or a school-attendance officer, but his 
peaked cap and naval blue coat denoted an 
official of some sort, and, in cases of this descrip- 
tion, the distinction carries weight. 

'' Yes, there's a woman injured in that house," 
repHed the flight-sub, setting down his burden. 

One of the men bent over the cradle and 
drew back the covering. Then he hastily re- 
placed it. 

'' Might have saved yourself the trouble, sir," 
he gulped. " Those baby-killing swine ! If 
that cursed Zep. should happen to fall anywhere 
round about and any of the devils are left aUve, 
I bet my last shilling the women-folk o' Bar- 
borough 'ud tear 'em limb from limb. An' 
serve 'em right. Lead on, sir." 

Not until the last of the living victims of the 
outrage had been removed from this section oi 



'MIDST THE SCENE OF RED RXHN 87 

the bombed district did Barcroft and his willing 
helpers desist from their arduous labours. 
Nothing more could be done until daybreak. 
Police guarded the approaches to the devastated 
street, while firemen stood by, ready at the 
first sign to tackle a fresh outburst from the 
still smouldering ruins. 

** Suppose I ought to try for an hotel,'* 
soUloquised the fiight-sub. '' I don't know. Fm 
in a horrible mess. Feel like a dustman or a 
scavenger. Perhaps Td better carry on. The 
governor might be a bit anxious if I don't." 

Receiving fresh directions Barcroft stepped 
out briskly. Taxis and even tramcars were 
now out of the question. 

'' Most confusing place I've struck for many 
a day," he muttered. *' I feel completely out 
of my bearings. I'm supposed to be going 
north ; it's my behef I'm making in a southerly 
direction." 

Vainly he looked aloft to '' verify his position 
by steUar observation." Not a star was visible. 
He was now clear of the town. The road ran 
steeply up a bleak hillside and was bounded by 
rough stone walls. Doubtless there were plenty 
of houses scattered about in the surrounding 
valleys, but these were not in evidence. Every 
light still burning had been carefully screened. 
It was a case of shutting the stable door after 
the horse had been stolen. 



88 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

Presently he reached the junction of two fork 
roads, either of which might lead to Tarleigh. 
A tantalising sign-post afforded no information, 
for upon swarming up the post the fiight-sub 
was unable to read the weather-beaten direc- 
tions. 

'' What on earth possessed the pater to hang 
out in this benighted spot I cannot imagine!*' 
exclaimed Barcroft disgustedly. '' Suppose I 
must wait here in the hope that some one will 
be passing this way. It seems the safest 
chance.*' 



CHAPTER IX 

BETTY 

" That's more hopeful/' ejaculated Flight sub- 
lieutenant Barcroft. '' I hear footsteps." 

For perhaps half a minute he listened intently. 
He was not mistaken in his surmise, but there 
was still the haunting doubt that the benighted 
wayfarer might be proceeding in a different 
direction. But no ; the footsteps came nearer 
and nearer. It was not the firm tread of a 
man, nor the clatter of a pair of Lancashire 
clogs. 

*'A woman, by Jove!'' muttered Billy. 
" I'll have to be jolly careful not to give her a 
fright. Rummy idea having to hail a craft of 
that sort at this time of the morning. Wonder 
what brings her out in this isolated spot ? " 

In his anxiety not to unduly alarm the ap- 
proaching woman, the flight-sub began to walk 
in her direction. It was, he decided, a better 
course than to stand back until she passed. 

*' Excuse me," he said touching his cap,'* but 
can you direct me to Tarleigh ? " 

89 



90 BILLY BANCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

" Yes, I am going part of the way/' was the 
reply in a decidedly clear and pleasant voice, 
which spoke with perfect composure. ** If you 
like I'll go with you as far as Two Elms. It i? 
then a straight road.'* 

"Thank you/' said Barcroft, falling into step 
with his imknown benefactor. " You see, I'm 
quite a stranger here.'* 

'*Hang it all!" he mused. ''That voice 
seems familiar. A trim little craft, too, I 
should imagine, although I can't see her face. 
Wonder who she is ? " 

'* You are a naval officer, I see," remarked 
the girl. 

''Yes," admitted Billy. "On leave and 
going to a home I've never seen. This raid 
affair made me late." 

" And so it did me," added his companion. 
" By the bye, where was your home before ? " 

" At Alderdene in Kent," replied Barcroft, 
somewhat taken aback at the question. " Why 
do you ask ? " 

" I thought so," was the composed reply. 
" And your name is Barcroft — Billy Barcroft." 

" By Jove ! " exclaimed the young officer. 
" How on earth do you know that ? I'm afraid 
I don't recognise you." 

" You always had a bad memory for certain 
things, Mr. Barcroft," the girl laughingly re- 
minded him. " I felt almost positive it was 



BETTY 91 

you directly you spoke. You see, the uniform 
helped me, and you have a most characteristic 
manner of speaking." 

'' Have I ? '* asked Billy, still mystified. 
'* And you have a good memory, I presume ? " 

" Fairly reliable,'' admitted the girl. 

*' Then let us hope that your recollections of 
me are of a favourable character," continued 
the flight-sub. *' Now, tell me ; what is your 
name ? " 

*' There is no immediate hurry for that," she 
protested. '' Before I reveal my identity sup- 
pose I remind you of some of your girl friends 
at Alderdene — Ada Forrester, for instance." 

Yes, Billy remembered Ada Forrester very 
well — a short, podgy kid, he reflected, who by 
no possible chance could have developed into 
the tall, graceful girl by his side. 

*' And Betty Deringhame," continued his 
inquisitor. *' One of the noble army of flappers. 
Rather a shallow-headed kid and a bit of a 
tomboy, wasn't she ? " 

*' A tomboy — yes," agreed the flight-sub, 
'* but I cannot admit the other. We used to 
be good pals, but that was three years ago. I 
was in my Third Term at Dartmouth when her 
people left Alderdene." 

*' You taught her to signal in Morse, I think," 
pursued the girl. '' You used to exchange 
messages until that Uttle pig, Pat O'Hara, the 



92 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

vicar's son, learnt it too and told tales to her 
mother/' 

They walked in silence for some moments. 
Barcroft had almost forgotten his surroundings. 
His thoughts had taken him back to those far- 
off, pre-war days in sunny Kent. 

*' Yes," he said at length in his deep manly 
voice. '' It is absolutely great to be with Betty 
Deringhame again." 

" So you've guessed at last," said Betty. 
** It's a strange world, isn't it ? " 

*' And a mighty pleasant one, barring the 
Huns and others of that crowd," added Billy. 
*' Now, tell me, what are you doing here ? " 

'' Walking with an old acquaintance upon a 
long road that leads to Two Elms and Tar- 
leigh." 

'' Obvious — we will not dispute the fact," 
rejoined the young officer. '' To put the ques- 
tion in more exact terms : where are you 
Hving, and what brought you to this part of 
England ? " 

'' I think I said I was living at Two Elms. 
To be more precise, at Mill View. That doesn't 
sound particularly cheerful, does it ? We came 
here to live after we left Alderdene, shortly 
after war broke out. I am now employed in a 
mimitions works." 

*' Mimitions works ! Whatever are you doing 
that f or ? " asked Billy surprised beyond 



it 



BETTY 93 

measure. It seemed incredible that the slim, 
light-hearted girl of his boyhood days should 
be toiling in this manner. 

*' Because I had to do something/' replied 
Betty simply. '* We lost almost everything. 
Besides, it was an opportunity to do something 
practical for the war. People of all social 
grades do, you know.*' 

'' Fm sorry about your financial misfortune," 
said Barcroft sympathetically. 

And so am I — very,'' added the girl frankly. 

But it is unnecessary to enter into details. 
This is my home." 

They came to a standstill in front of a row of 
two-storeyed houses. Owing to the darkness 
it was impossible for the flight-sub to form an 
accurate idea of the pretensions of the place ; 
but at any rate it was a pitiful contrast to '' The 
Old Rectory," the Deringhames' house at 
Alderdene. 

'' The works were nearly hit by the bombs," 
continued Betty. *' We had just started the 
night-shifts, but the girls were sent off after 
the raid was over. One of them was so fright- 
ened that I had to take her home. That's why 
I was late." 

** Fortunately for me, "declared Billy earnestly. 

" Yes, a stranger would have some difficulty 
to find his way on a night like this," said Betty 
inconsequently. '' You are on a straight road 



94 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

now, until you come to a railway arch. Just 
beyond you'll notice a line of overhead wires if 
you keep your eyes open. Just beyond is a 
path on the left. That will take you past 
Ladybird Fold.'' 

'* I'll call in the morning," said Barcroft. 

*' We — that is, mother and I, will be pleased 
to see you," replied the girl. '' Good-night — 
Billy." 

For the rest of the distance the flight-sub 
trod literally on air until he reached the path 
that Betty had mentioned. Tripping over a 
slab of stone he came to earth in a double 
sense. 

'' Dash it all ! " he exclaimed as he picked 
himself up. *' Has the governor defended Lady- 
bird Fold with entanglements and pitfalls ? By 
Jove, this is a night!" 

Groping his way Billy ascended the steeply 
sloping cinder path across the meadow. Another 
stile and a broad stretch of rugged ground had 
to be negotiated before he saw a dark mass 
looming up in front. By this time he was 
feeling particularly stiff, hungry and cold. The 
keen air of the hillside made him regret the 
absence of his airman's leather coat. 

*' Wonder if this is the show ? " he mused as 
he surveyed the isolated and apparently deserted 
building. 

He stopped and listened intently. Voices 



BETTY 95 

were heard within, behind the thickly-curtained 
window. He recognised one of the speakers. 

*' That's the governor, right enough,'* he 
exclaimed, all traces of annoyance vanishing 
at the pleasurable discovery. 

The outer door was unlocked. Billy threw 
it open and burst into the well-Ughted study. 

'' Cheer-o, pater ! '' he exclaimed. '* Sorry 
Tm late. Some night, eh, what ? " 



CHAPTER X 

THE seaplane's QUEST 

" S' LONG, you festive blighters ! Good luck ! '* 
With this typically airman's farewell ringing 
in his ears Flight-lieutenant John Fuller, D.S.O., 
clambered lightly into the pilot's seat of Sea- 
plane 445B. 

Owing to Billy Barcroft's absence on leave a 
change round had been effected in the composi- 
tion of the crews of the seaplane carrier '* Hippo- 
drome's " Uttle nest of hornets, and as a result 
Fuller found himself in company with Bobby 
Kirkwood as his observer. 

It was the night of the Barborough raid. 
The '* Hippodrome," bound for the Firth of 
Forth, had picked up a wireless when some- 
where off the Yorkshire coast, reporting the 
presence of four Zeppelins. Aeroplanes and 
seaplanes attached to the north-eastern bases 
had already ascended in the hope of cutting 
off the returning air-pirates, and in conjunction 
with these operations the ''Hippodrome" was 
about to send out her airmen to grapple with 
the enemy in the darkness. 

90 



THE SEAPLANE'S QUEST 97 

It was indeed a formidable and hazardous 
undertaking. The returning Zeppelins would 
certainly take advantage of the stiff westerly 
breeze. By keeping to a great altitude and 
shutting off their engines they drift, silent 
and unseen, over the East Coast, until it is 
deemed advisable to restart the motors. Even 
the disadvantage caused by the immense bulk 
of the vulnerable envelope would be discounted 
by its invisibility in the darkness of the night. 

The Zeppelins could keep '' afloat '' by the 
buoyancy of their hydrogen-charged ballonets ; 
the aeroplanes, being heavier than air, could 
not, except for a comparatively brief vol-plane, 
without the aid of their propellers. The roar 
of the latter would betray their presence to 
the watchers on the silent airship. 

Altogether the seaplane's task savoured of 
a wild goose chase. Only by a pure fluke 
might one of the aeroplanes *' spot '' one of 
the returning raiders, but on the remote chance 
of being able to do so the '* Hippodrome's " 
aerial flotilla set out on its hazardous flight. 

For three-quarters of an hour No 445B flew 
to and fro parallel to the coast. It was bit- 
terly cold. At a minimum height of five 
thousand feet was a vast bank of clouds that 
drifted steadily eastwards. 

Occasionally Kirkwood took down a wireless 
report from the parent ship and handed it to 
7 



M BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

the pilot. Hardly a word was spoken. The 
voice tube was resorted to only once in that 
forty-five minutes. 

" I'm going further out/* announced Fuller. 
" Well clear that patch of clouds.*' 

With her motors purring rhythmically and 
the pistons throbbing in perfect tune the sea- 
plane swung round and settled in an easterly 
direction, the while cUmbing steadily. Behind 
her was the tail end of a nimbus ; above, through 
a vast rift the stars twinkled in the cold sky ; 
beneath, thousands of feet down, was the sea, 
its vicious, steep waves invisible in the kindly 
darkness. 

Suddenly, from the enshrouding masses of 
cloud, a dark, symmetrically elongated shape 
shot rapidly into the starlight. It was a 
Zeppelin in full flight. Columns of smoke were 
issuing from her exhausts, but the throb of 
the seaplane's motors drowned the drone of her 
powerful engines. 

"Good!" ejaculated Fuller, actuating the 
rudder bar with his feet and elevating the ail- 
erons. '' That's our bird. If they don't spot 
us before they gain that bank of clouds, she's 
ours." 

Eagerly yet methodically Kirkwood brought 
the Lewis gun ready for action. It was to be 
the last resource in attack, to be used only if 
the seaplane failed to gain the aerial *' weather- 



THE SEAPLANE'S QUEST 99 

gage '' — a superior altitude to that of her bulky 
antagonist. 

For the present the odds were level as re- 
gards speed. The seaplane's greater rate of 
flight was counterbalanced by the fact that 
she had to climb in order to get above her 
intended prey and drop a bomb upon the im- 
mense and fragile bulk of the Zeppelin's 
envelope. 

And Fuller was achieving his object. Already 
Seaplane 445B was passing diagonally upwards 
through the raider's smoking trail, the oil- 
tinged vapour from her exhaust pipes. Every 
moment tended to bring the protruding stern 
portion of the Zep. betwixt her crew and the 
steadily climbing aeroplane, thus diminishing 
the risk of detection. 

Fuller was about to check the upward climb 
and overhaul his antagonist when the Zeppelin 
appeared almost to stand on end. The whole 
of her upper surface was exposed to the British 
airmen's view. Then, almost simultaneously 
the seaplane seemed to be following. 

It was a form of optical delusion. She was 
still climbing steadily. The Zeppelin had spot- 
ted her small and dangerous foe. Dropping a 
quantity of ballast en bloc the airship shot 
vertically upward to a terrific height. It was 
this motion that had given Fuller the impres- 
sion that the seaplane was dropping. 



100 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

" She*s twigged us ! '' he shouted through 
the voice tube. '* Let her have it." 

The A. P. promptly began to let loose a 
whole drum of ammunition. The Zeppelin 
was instantly enveloped in a cloud of smoke. 
Into the pall of vapour the Lewis gun pumped 
its nickel missiles, yet no crippled flaming 
fabric crashed helplessly to the surface of the 
sea. 

The smoke was a '* blind.'' Fuller realised 
that. Screening herself by the dense vapour 
the Zeppelin had ascended almost vertically 
until safe from observation in the dense clouds 
overhead. 

''Missed her, by Jove!" ejaculated the 
flight-lieutenant. 

** More than she did us/' replied Kirkwood 
coolly, in spite of his keen disappointment, for a 
small-caUbre bullet had ripped the ear-pad of 
his airman's helmet. Whether his ear was hit 
he knew not. The intense cold had numbed 
all sense of feeling. The shot was evidently 
from a Maxim and one of many, but in the 
darkness it was impossible to see whether the 
seaplane had sustained any damage. Judging 
by her behaviour Kirkwood thought not. 

Yet Fuller was loath to discontinue the chase. 
On and on he flew, further and further away 
from the ''Hippodrome" and the shores of 
Britain, vainly hoping to pick up his quarry 



THE SEAPLANE'S QUEST 101 

when the Zeppelin again emerged from the 
cloud banks. 

"I'll swear she's shut off power and is float- 
ing somewhere in that cloud/' he soliloquised. 
'' Well, ril have a shot at it, even if we charge 
smack into the brute." 

With this desperate yet praiseworthy resolu- 
tion the flight-lieutenant swung his frail com- 
mand about and began to cUmb steadily towards 
the mass of dark clouds. Ten minutes later 
the seaplane entered the lower edge of the nim- 
bus. It was like tearing through a dense fog. 
All sense of direction was lost. Whether the 
machine was climbing, banking or descending 
was a matter of conjecture, since the darkness 
and the moisture made it impossible to consult 
the aeronautical instrument. Ahead was noth- 
ing but an opaque curtain of mist. On either side 
the tips of the planes merged into invisibiUty. 
Only astern were there any light-sparks from 
the hot exhaust throwing a faint, ruddy glare 
upon the wisps of trailing vapour that followed, 
circling and writhing, in the wake of the swiftly- 
moving machine. 

*' If the Huns are anywhere in this stuff 
they'll get in a rare funk even if we don't run 
across them," thought Fuller. Unmindful of 
the danger of his own seeking he mentally 
pictured the panic-stricken condition of the 
raider, as hearing the roar of the seaplane's 



102 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

motors and unable to locate its position, they 
were in momentary peril of being rammed 
by an object tearing at ninety miles an hour 
through an optically impenetrable darkness. 

Kirkwood, too, realised the risk . With nerves 
a-tingle he awaited developments. Faith in 
Fuller's prowess gave him confidence. With 
one hand resting lightly on the lever operating 
the bomb-dropping gear he waited, ready at 
the first signal to release the missiles of an- 
nihilation. 

Suddenly the muffled roar of the exhaust 
gave place to a series of rapid explosions. In- 
stinctively Kirkwood likened it to a boy rasping 
a stick along a row of iron palings. At the 
same time a succession of spurts of flame 
streaked overhead. The seaplane had only 
just scraped the underside of her antagonist. 
The upper planes had missed the Zeppelin's 
'midship gondola by inches, and the flashes he 
had seen were from the airship's machine-gun 
as the Huns blazed furiously and erratically 
at their unseen but unpleasantly audible foe. 

Up spun 445B, until she seemed to stand 
almost on her tail. Then tilting until she was in 
imminent danger of side-slipping, she sought 
to make good her discovery. Vainly Fuller 
circled and circled, striving to pierce the 
vault of inky blackness. The Zeppelin was 
no longer there. Whether she had thrown 



THE SEAPLANE'S QUEST 108 

out some more ballast or had trusted to her 
motors to bear her away from the unseen terror 
he knew not. 

He was not a man to admit defeat readily. 

'' ril make 'em have cold feet in any case/* 
he decided, as he removed his mist-dimmed 
goggles and peered into the luminous compass- 
bowl. '* Due east till we get out of this cloud, 
and then Til wait for the brute.'* 

Unfortunately, as far as he was concerned. 
Fuller's decision could not be carried out, for 
from no apparent cause the motors raced at 
unprecedented speed for a brief instant and 
then stopped. 

The contrast from the noise of the engine to 
the stillness of the upper regions was the feature 
that impressed him most. The seaplane, at a 
height of ten thousand feet, and in the midst 
of a dense cloud, was beginning to fall. Vainly 
the pilot strove to avoid the nerve-racking 
** tail-spin." His sense of direction gone he 
could only jiggle the joy-stick in the hope that 
the terrific headlong, erratic downward rush 
might be checked. 

Kirkwood, secured by the broad leather 
safety strap, also realised the danger. He was 
conscious of being whirled round and round 
with his body in a horizontal position. He 
could feel the rush of air as the seaplane dropped, 
otherwise silently, towards the sea. Unless the 



104 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

machine could be got under control their fate 
was sealed. The frail floats would be pulverised 
and splintered with the terrific impact, and 
the wreckage, weighted down by the heavy 
motor, would sink like a stone. 

For sixty seconds — it seemed like sixty hours 
—the uncontrollable plunge continued, then 
like a flash the tail-spinning machine emerged 
from the under side of the cloud into the com- 
paratively clear atmosphere. With an almost 
superhuman effort Fuller readjusted the sorely- 
tried ailerons. The resistance on the planes 
was tremendous, but the fabric and the tension 
wires were British made. With a sickening 
jerk the seaplane described a complete loop. 
In the nick of time the resourceful pilot caught 
her on the '' swing '' and flattened out. 

Once the motion was sufficiently retarded he 
commenced a vol-plane. It was, perhaps, pro- 
longing the agony, since there could be little 
hope of rescue on a dark night, even if the 
waves did not overwhelm the frail craft. 

'* Stand by ! '' shouted Fuller. '* Look down 
— on your right.'' 

The A. P., well nigh breathless through the 
pressure of the belt upon his ribs, leant over the 
side of the chassis. Two thousand feet below^ 
with her drawn-out shape glittering dully in the 
starUght, was another Zeppelin. The first, 
silhouetted against the faint light, had presented 



THE SEAPL.4NE'S QUEST 105 

a black shape ; this one showed up clearly in 
her aluminium garb against the darkness. She 
was proceeding rapidly at a height of about 
three thousand feet, and now less than a thou- 
sand beneath the vol-planing British craft. 

*' Our luck's in ! '* exclaimed the flight- 
lieutenant, his thoughts only for the immediate 
present. It would be sufficient to consider the 
end of that terrific vol-plane when the moment 
arrived. For the present it was not even a 
secondary matter — it did not enter into the 
intrepid airman's calculation. 

'* Stand by ! '' roared Fuller again. " For 
Heaven's sake don't miss." 

Down swept the noiseless biplane upon its 
unsuspecting prey. According to Fuller's plans 
he would approach the Zeppelin in the same 
vertical plane but at an acute angle — both 
aircraft proceeding in the same direction. This 
would give the bombs a better target than if the 
seaplane was cutting across the path of the air- 
ship. 

So swift was the descent that the Zeppelin 
appeared to be rising in the air to meet her 
opponent. Her huge, long-drawn-out mass 
grew bigger and bigger until it seemed as if a 
miss would be an impossibihty. 

** Now ! " shouted the flight-lieutenant. 

With a swift, decided movement Kirkwood 
thrust over the releasing-gear lever. There 



106 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

was no resistance. Unaccountably the flexible 
wire operating the release catch had been de- 
tached. Without a moment's hesitation the 
A. P. unbuckled his belt and, bending, groped on 
the floor of the fuselage for the business-end 
of the wire. Just then the Zep. opened fire with 
her machine-gun. 

Fuller, leaning over the side waited in eager 
expectation of the anticipated explosion, quite 
prepared to find the seaplane capsized under 
the blast of the terrific detonation. But there 
was none, and already the vol-planing machine 
was beyond and on a level with the Zeppelin. 
Without the aid of the motor it was impossible 
to return to the attack. 

Savagely Fuller swung round with the inten- 
tion of demanding the reason of his observer's 
blunder. To his surprise the A. P. was not to 
be seen. 

^^ Plugged!'' ejaculated the pilot. ''Well, 
here goes ; another two minutes will decide." 

The ZeppeUn was now out of his mind. His 
whole attention was devoted to the impending 
impact with the surface of the water. Every- 
thing depended upon his skill and judgment, 
with a fair element of luck thrown in. In the 
darkness it was impossible to gauge with any 
degree of certainty the height of the descending 
machine above the sea. If the pilot '' flattened 
out " too soon the seaplane would fall like a 



THE SEAPLANE'S QUEST 107 

stone ; if, on the other hand the vol-plane were 
maintained the fraction of a minute too long 
the impact would either result in the shattering 
of the floats or in the machine describing a 
somersault — possibly both. 

With a double plash the flat-bottomed floats 
smacked the waves. The '* landing '' was suc- 
cessfully accomplished, but the unpleasant fact 
remained that Fuller and Kirkwood were afloat 
in a frail cockleshell in a fairly '' jumpy " sea 
and on a pitch-dark night. Without water and 
provisions and with no aid in sight and already 
sixty miles or more from land they were rapidly 
drifting out to sea nearer and nearer the hostile 
shores of Germany. 



CHAPTER XI 

THE TERRORS OF THE AIR 

Siegfried von Eitelwurmer, the German 
Secret Service Agent, sat and shivered in the 
after-gondola of the returning Zeppelin. He 
was not feeling at all happy. Apart from the 
physical discomfort — for in addition to the 
effect of the cold he was under the influence of 
air-sickness — his mind was harassed by well- 
f oimded thoughts that something might happen 
to the gigantic but obviously frail gas-bag. 

Like most Germans his faith in Count 
Zeppelin's cowardly and diaboUcal invention 
was unshaken — so long as he could remain on 
terra-firma. But whereas the stay-at-home 
Hun satisfied himself by reading of the colossal 
achievements of the German aerial fleet, von 
Eitelwurmer knew by actual observation that 
the raids failed to justify one-tenth, nay, one- 
thousandth part of the claims put forward by 
the authorities at Berlin. 

In pre-war days he had seen experimental 
Zeppelins dashed to pieces in a vain attempt to 

108 



THE TERRORS OF THE AIR 109 

regain the shed. He had seen others destroyed 
by fire. He remembered seeing a ''leader'' in 
a British newspaper in which it was solemnly 
declared that the sympathies of the civilised 
world will go out to the aged Count in the hour 
of his grief at the failure of his life's work. 

And now, in addition to the ordinary risks of 
aviation the returning airship was liable at 
any moment to the attack of the ** hornets '* 
that were known to be on the look-out for the 
raiders. Here he was, carried off against his 
will, suspended like Mahomet's tomb Hwixt 
heaven and earth, and faced with the prospect 
of a swift journey to a place not included in the 
above category. 

Ober-leutnant von Loringhoven left his pas- 
senger severely alone. For one thing the 
commander's attention was almost entirely 
taken up with the work of navigating his 
cumbersome craft back to the Fatherland ; for 
another he mistrusted spies, even when they 
were Germans and notwithstanding the fact 
that he himself had indulged in that dangerous 
pastime. But there was this difference. Von 
Loringhoven was a naval officer while von 
Eitelwurmer was a civilian. He had heard of 
German spies renouncing their allegiance and 
acting for the country in which they were to be 
working on behalf of the authorities at Berlin. 

The spy had been accommodated with a 



110 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

camp-stool. On either side of the narrow 
compartment was a window fitted with double 
plate-glass windows. The for'ard bulkhead was 
pierced by a door leading to the cat- walk or 
suspended bridge communicating with both the 
'midships and for'ard gondolas. Aft was another 
bulkhead separating a portion of the compart- 
ment from that containing the motors actuating 
the two rearmost propellers. The floor was 
in a state of continual tremor under the pulsa- 
tions of the engines and the rattle of the two 
endless chains that transmitted the power to 
the two outboard propellers. 

The limited space was still further taken up by 
two machine-guns mounted on aluminium alloy 
pedestals and capable of being trained through 
a fairly broad arc. By these stood four of the 
crew, ready at the first alarm to lower the glass 
panes and bring the weapons into action. The 
men were taciturn and obviously nervous. 
\\hen flying over the unprotected towns and 
dropping their murderous cargoes they could be 
boisterous enough, but now, knowing that they 
had to run the gauntlet, they were feeling 
particularly cowed. Ihe fear of being paid 
back in their own coin — a possibiHty that alone 
makes the Hun howl — gripped them, and held 
them in a state of prolonged mental torture. 

Presently, at an order communicated by 
telephone from the foremost gondola, the 



THE TERRORS OF THE AIR 111 

machine-gunners lowered the sashes of the win- 
dows. The temperature, afready — 2** C. fell 
rapidly to — 10° C. Warm air-currents from the 
motor-room drifted through gaps in the partition 
and condensing fell upon the floor in the form of 
globules of ice. 

Up and up chmbed the Zeppelin. She was 
approaching the East Coast. 

Von Eitelwurmer, overcoming his torpor, 
went to the window. One of the men was 
about to motion him to his seat, when another 
touched him on the shoulder and pointed. 

Far below the whole coimtry was in darkness. 
The spy could not tell whether it was land or 
water. Away to the southward a group of 
searchlights swept the sky, the beams imping- 
ing upon a bank of clouds that floated at a 
height of nearly a mile. Still further away 
more electric rays swayed slowly to and fro. 
At intervals the searchlights of the nearmost 
station crossed those of the one more remote, 
while in turn these effected a luminous ex- 
change with rays still further away. As far 
as the eye could see there appeared to be a 
continuous barrage of light tbrough which the 
returning raider must pass before gaining her 
base. 

At an order the motors were switched off. 
Almost absolute silence succeeded the noisy 
roar of the seven 240-horse-power engines. 



112 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

The airship, at the mercy of the winds, began 
to turn broadside on to the aerial drift, yet the 
while, by means of ballast thro^\^l overboard 
and the release of more compressed hydrogen 
from the cylinders into the ballonets, was 
steadily cUmbing. 

It was von Loringhoven's aim to ascend 
until the Zeppelin was above the clouds. 
Screened from those dangerous searchhghts 
the airship would then drift over the coast-line 
until such times as it would be deemed safe to 
restart the motors. 

With the altitude gauge hovering at 4,000 
metres the raider found herself just above the 
natural screen. The belt of clouds was not 
more than three hundred feet in height — suf- 
ficient to hide her from the earth, yet 
transparent enough to allow the rays of the 
searchlight to penetrate the vapour. 

To the spy the outlook resembled the view 
from a railway carriage when dense clouds of 
steam waft past the windows. So powerful 
were the rays of the searchlights that the 
stratum of the vapour was flooded with silvery 
luminosity, while — ominous sign — the beams 
no longer swayed to and fro as previously, but 
hung with sinister persistence upon the bank of 
clouds with which the airship hoped to screen 
herself from observation. 

Even as von Eitelwurmer looked a huge 



THE TERRORS OF THE AIR lia 

dark shadow eclipsed the concentrated beams. 
It was moving slowly at a rate hardly exceeding 
that of the airship. For that reason the object 
could not be an aeroplane. Perhaps it was 
some deadly invention that the English had 
brought into action against the Zeppelins — a 
sort of aerial torpedo steered by wireless electric 
waves ? 

The machine-gunners saw it too. The last 
atom of courage literally oozed out of their 
boots, yet almost automatically they gripped 
the handle that would liberate shots at the 
rate of 500 a minute if to the voidless night. 

It was fortunate for them that they did not 
open fire. The shadow was that of another 
Zeppelin that at less than a hundred feet below 
was slowly forging ahead in a southerly direc- 
tion under the action of her throttled-down 
motors, and with her exhausts carefully muffled. 

In five minutes the novel Zeppelin ecHpse 
was over, although at no time was the actual 
airship to be seen. She had previously been 
fired upon by the anti-aircraft guns on the 
coast and was now cautiously smelling her way 
through the clouds in order to find an unde- 
fended gap in the defences. 

Another half-hour passed in acute suspense. 
Three times the anxious crew heard the terrify- 
ing sound of an aerial propeller. Somewhere 
in the darkness the British hornets were up 
8 



114 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

and searching for their lurking foe — so far 
without success unless the moral effect be taken 
into consideration. 

Presently the Zeppelin drifted beyond the 
glare of the fixed searchlights, but not until 
another twenty minutes had passed did von 
Loringhoven give orders for the engines to be 
restarted. At that terrific altitude the noise 
was considerably diminished in volume. In- 
stead of the explosions of the motors resembling 
a succession of rifle-shots the sounds were like 
those of a whip being cracked, yet as the airship 
descended steadily to a height of five thousand 
feet the noise resumed its normal and distract- 
ing violence. 

The spy sat down again. His torpor was 
returning. The sudden change of altitude had 
resulted in a steady flow of blood from his 
nose, while his ear-drums throbbed until they 
seemed on the point of bursting. At that 
moment he felt that he would not have minded 
had the airship been blown to atoms. 

But the next instant his lassitude vanished, 
as the loud pop-pop-pop of two of her machine- 
guns roused him from his stupor. The weapon 
on the starboard side was trained as far as 
possible abaft the beam and was pumping out 
nickel into the darkness. 

Craning his neck over the shoulders of the 
men serving the belt-ammunition von Eitel- 



THE TERRORS OF THE AIR 116 

wurmer saw a sight that caused his agonies of 
mind to return with redoubled violence. 

Just visible against the loom of the starlit 
sky was a huge biplane that, climbing steeply, 
seemed to be steadily overhauling the airship. 
Serenely unmindful of the hail of bullets aimed 
at her the seaplane held on with the obvious 
intention of getting astride her prey. 

Mingled with the detonations of the machine- 
guns were the clanging of telephone bells, the 
clank of machinery and the excited voices of 
the crew. Then with a jerk that threw the spy 
violently against the after bulkhead the Zeppelin 
leapt sk5^wards. Simultaneously dense volumes 
of black smoke eddied in through the open 
windows. 

Sprawling in the intense darkness upon the 
ice-encrusted floor of the gondola the spy vainly 
strove to shriek, but only a gurgled sound came 
from his lips. He had not the slightest doubt 
but that the airship was on fire and on the 
point of crashing to her doom. 

Hearing the stifled cry, for again the motors 
were stopped, one of the crew gripped him 
roughly by the arm, and set him on his feet. 

'* Silence ! '' he hissed. ** A noise like that 
may betray us." 

A seemingly interminable interval followed. 
The Zeppelin, floating motionless in a dense 
and opaque bank of clouds, was endeavouring 



116 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

to evade her comparatively small but highly 
dangerous antagonist, the loud buzzing of 
whose engine could be distinguished \\dth all 
too forcible certainty. 

With every light switched off the crew of 
the unwieldy gas-bag waited in breathless 
suspense, knowing that at any moment a bomb 
might explode with annihilating result in the 
midst of the vast store of highly inflammable 
hydrogen above their heads. 

For how long this state of almost unbearable 
suspense and nerve-racking tension lasted von 
Eitelwiirmer had not the shghtest idea. In 
Cimmerian darkness he sat, shivering with cold 
and fear, his eyes fixed upon the motionless form 
of one of the machine-gunners w^ho, leaning out 
of one of the open apertures, was striving to 
locate the presence of the unseen but audible 
British seaplane. 

Every time that the drone of the biplane's 
engine rose to a crescendo the spy's finger-nails 
cut into the palms of his benumbed hands. 
Vaguely he wondered what the end would be : 
whether the intense cold would give place to 
violent heat as the Zeppehn, a mass of flames, 
crashed headlong, or whether in the absence 
of an explosion the agony w^ould be prolonged 
until the gondola, pinned down by the weight 
of the shattered framework of the gas-bag, 
would plunge beneath the waves and cause 



THE TERRORS OF THE AIR 117 

him to drown like a rat in a trap. He gave no 
thought to his companions. It was he that 
mattered. He was in peril. The rest — well, 
that was their affair. They had undertaken 
the raid and its attendant risk to themselves. 
It seemed hard that he — an involuntary pass- 
enger — should be faced with the immediate 
prospect of being burnt to a cinder in mid-air 
or stifled in the icy waters of the North Sea. 

The whirr of the seaplane's propeller in- 
creased in volume, more than at any previous 
time during the Zeppelin's sojourn in the clouds. 

Suddenly the machine-gunner uttered an 
exclamation and nudged his companion. A 
succession of blinding flashes and the rapid 
rattle of the automatic weapon dazzled the 
eyes and dulled the hearing of the demoralised 
spy. Yet, impelled by an unseen force, von 
Eitelwurmer raised himself and peered out of 
the scuttle. 

The sight that met his eye was enough to 
appal a man of high moral and physical fibre, 
let alone the nerve-strickenspy ; for, apparently 
heading straight for the Zeppelin and with her 
planes distinctly visible in the flashes of the 
machine-gun, was the avenging British sea- 
plane. With a wild, unearthly shriek von Eitel- 
wurmer threw up his arms and fell unconscious 
upon the floor of the gondola. 



CHAPTER XII 

THE raider's return 

Siegfried von Eitelwurmer opened his eyes. 
His first thoughts were those of curious wonder- 
ment. It seemed remarkable, aknost disap- 
pointing, that he found himself still alive. 

More, he was still on board the airship, but 
his surroundings were different. The intense 
darkness had given place to light — not artificial 
luminosity of electric agency but the welcome 
light of day. His quarters had been changed. 
During his period of unconsciousness he had been 
taken along the narrow cat-walk (perhaps it 
was well for him that he had no recollection of 
that perilous passage along the V-shaped gang- 
way) and had been placed in the centre gondola. 

This move had been made at Ober-leutnant 
von Loringhoven's orders. During the nerve- 
racking journey over the sea-frontier of England 
the Hun commander had given scant thought 
to the comfort of his guest, but with immediate 
prospects of a safe return, he had recalled the 
advisability of giving the Kaiser's emissary 

118 



THE RAIDER'S RETURN 119 

those honours that his position — albeit a des- 
pised civil one — demanded. 

*' Are you feeling better now ? *' enquired 
von Loringhoven. 

The spy sat up and passed a hand over his 
forehead. 

'* Where are we now ? '' he asked, ignoring 
the ober-leutnant's question. 

*' In sight of German soil," was the reply. 
** Yonder can be discerned our incomparable 
island fortress of Heligoland. No, we do not 
descend there, nor at Tondern or Borkum. 
Unfortunately that dare-devil of an Enghshman 
has done us some damage, so we go on to the 
repairing sheds at Kyritz — they, fortunately, 
are beyond reach of hostile aircraft. At least, 
so I hope, but there is no telling what these 
Enghsh seaplanes will do next.'* 

\Mth von Loringhoven's reassurances bringing 
comfort to his tortured mind the spy's mercurial 
spirits rose. Yet not without a shudder he 
recalled his last conscious moment in the horrors 
of the pitch-black cramped interior of the after 
gondola. 

** Himmel ! " he exclaimed. *' That was a 
nightmare. I little thought to be alive, and 
now I am tempted to shout * Hoch ! Hoch ! ' 
at the top of my voice.'' 

*' The bracing upper air," commented the 
ober-leutnant. '* It is superb for raising one's 



120 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

spirits. Yes, it was an anxious time. I admit 
it. For the moment I thought that the cursed 
seaplane was going to hurl herself straight 
through the envelope. It is a thing that these 
mad Englishmen would do. I know them.'' 

Von Eitelwurmer nodded in silent accord. 

'* But," continued the commander, '' it was 
otherwise. Possibly our fire distracted the 
pilot, or he may have changed his mind at the 
last moment. Yet it was so close that I doubt 
whether there was anything to spare between the 
tip of one of his planes and the underside of the 
rear gondola. To me, looking aft, it seemed 
the narrowest shave possible. However, she 
missed us, and I immediately gave orders for 
the motors to be restarted. Heaven be praised, 
we never saw that seaplane again.'' 

'' And the damage ? " enquired von Eitel- 
wurmer. 

*' Not enough to prevent us continuing the 
voyage," replied von Loringhoven. *' Two of 
the after ballonets are perforated too badly to 
be patched. A couple of my men succeeded in 
plugging the holes with the special preparation 
we use in such contingencies. You will observe 
that this floor inclines considerably in spite of the 
redistribution of ballast. We are down by the 
stern. Well, what is it ? " he asked curtly as 
Unter-leutnant Klick entered the compartment. 

"A wireless has just been received, sir," 



THE RAIDER'S RETURN 121 

replied Klick, saluting his superior. '* It ap- 
pears that two of our airships have failed to 
return." 

** Donner wetter! Two out of twelve!'' ex- 
claimed von Loringhoven furiously. '' This is 
serious. But it might have been worse/' he 
muttered in an undertone, as he glanced at the 
drooping end of the large envelope. 

The spy went to one of the windows. The 
air was still sharp but mild in comparison to 
the piercing cold of the night. Already the sun 
was well above the horizon. Two thousand feet 
or less beneath the airship — for on approaching 
land the Zeppelin had descended considerably 
— could be discerned with remarkable clearness 
the green grass and red sandstone of the island 
of Heligoland with a strand of white sand ad- 
joining one face of the cliffs. A short distance 
beyond was the flat, semi-artificial island of 
Sandinsel, with its batteries, concealed when 
viewed from the sea, standing conspicuously 
against the dunes. 

Still further away were the flat, receding 
shores bordering the estuary of the Elbe, but 
vainly the spy looked for any signs of the 
vaunted High Seas Fleet. Even the well pro- 
tected triangular expanse of water was desolate 
of shipping, save for a few small craft engaged 
either in laying additional mines or conveying 
stores to the island fortress. 



121 BILLY BARCHOFT, R.N.A.S. 

At that height the varying depths of the sea 
could be noted owing to the changing colour 
of the water — not that that fact interested von 
Eitelwurmer in the sHghtest. He was a lands- 
man out and out. He was content to leave the 
difficult task of wresting the trident from 
Britannia's grasp to others. The matter did 
not concern him. He speciaUsed in the arts 
and intrigues of espionage. 

Von Loringhoven was cast in a different 
mould. Although his present energies were 
centred upon the air service he was at heart a 
seaman. He, too, was examining the expanse 
of sea, but with the skill of a practised navigator. 

'' Look ! '* he exclaimed, pointing to a small, 
indistinct object from which emanated two 
ever-diverging lines of ruffled water. '' Do you 
know what that is ? Here, take these binoculars 
and look. Now, perhaps, you see what I 
mean ? " 

The spy brought the glasses to bear. 

''A fish, I suppose," he remarked. 

*' A fish of sorts," added the ober-leutnant. 
'* One's sense of proportion is deceived at this 
height. It is an unterseeboot. I do not fancy 
it is ours, otherwise why should she keep sub- 
merged when close to our territorial water ? *' 

He lifted the receiver of the telephone. 

'* Wireless cabin. Report to the commandant 
of HeUgoland that there is a submarine in the 



THE RAIDER'S RETURN 123 

south channel. Ask if it is one of our unter- 
seebooten/' 

In a few minutes came the reply. 

*' No German submarine operating sub- 
merged off the fortress. Can you attack ? '' 

** No, I cannot/' declared von Loringhoven 
bluntly, directing his remarks to his companion. 
'* She's a British submarine. Those fellows 
nose their way everywhere. She, evidently, is 
inside the outer minefield. And they want me, 
crippled as this airship is, to attack. It is un- 
reasonable ; besides, the wind is increasing in 
strength and we have yet to make a landing." 

So, giving by wireless the bearings of the daring 
submarine, von Loringhoven " carried on " 
in the knowledge that the dangers of this flight 
were by no means over. Already the wind 
was blowing with a velocity of thirty miles 
an hour — a rate that would make landing a 
difficult matter — and, what is more, its strength 
was hourly increasing. 

At ten in the morning the Zeppelin came in 
sight of the sheds at Kyritz, a town in the pro- 
vince of Brandenburg and roughly sixty miles 
north-west of Berlin. This was the base for 
airships that had sustained damage likely to 
take a considerable time to repair. The German 
authorities, profiting by the lessons of the British 
air raids on Friedrichshaven and other Zeppelin 
stations within range of aeroplanes operating 



124 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

either from the sea or from the hostile frontiers, 
had taken the precaution to remove the repair 
depots well inland. In such places as Borkum 
there were Zeppelins in commission ready for 
making flights to the British Isles, but at the 
first intimation of a raid upon the airship sheds 
the mammoth gas-bags would fly inland until 
the danger was past. In the case of a Zeppelin 
undergoing extensive repairs such a course 
would be impossible ; hence the establishment 
of the base at Kjrritz. 

Turning head to wind the crippled Zeppelin 
descended slowly and cautiously towards a 
field surrounding the three large sheds. The 
sheds themselves were marvels of scientific 
ingenuity. For one thing they were easily 
collapsible. By means of mechanical appli- 
ances the roof could be parted lengthways and 
each section allowed to fold against the walls. 
The walls could then be lowered until the whole 
structure lay flat on the ground. The fabric, 
composed of steel sheeting on girders of the 
same material, was covered with stucco that 
strongly resembled the surrounding ground. 
Viewed from a height there would be great 
difliculty in distinguishing between the collap- 
sible sheds and the adjoining land. The build- 
ings, of course, could only be lowered when 
not tenanted by airships, but such was the 
deliberate thoroughness of the Huns that they 



THE RAIDER'S RETURN 125 

had to provide for this contingency in the 
possible yet improbable event of a British 
aircraft raid. 

Another feature of the sheds was the fact 
that each was built upon a gigantic turn-table, 
so as to enable the openings to turn away from 
the prevailing wind and thus facilitate land- 
ing operations ; while by a system of disc 
signals the commander of the returning Zeppelin 
was informed of the direction and strength of 
the breeze. 

Yet, in spite of these precautions, the landing 
operations were fraught with danger, especially 
in the present case. 

As the crippled airship approached the shed, 
ropes were lowered from bow and stern. These 
were seized by swarms of trained air-mechanics, 
and as gently as possible the huge envelope was 
brought upon an even keel. All the while the 
propellers kept revolving in order to enable her 
to counteract the force of the head wind. 

Then other ropes were lowered from the 
'midship portion of the Zeppelin while simul- 
taneously gas was exhausted from some of the 
ballonets to neutralise her buoyancy. 

All that seemingly remained was to shut off 
the motors and drag the mammoth into its 
lair. 

Suddenly a strong gust of wind, eddying past 
the shed, struck the bow of the Zeppelin. The 



126 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

men holding the bow ropes were thrown in a 
struggling heap of humanity upon the grass. 
In an instant the whole of the for'ard portion 
of the Zeppelin reared itself in the air. The 
aluminium longitudinal girders were not proof 
against the unequal strain, and with incredible 
rapidity the frail fabric buckled. 

'* Jump ! " shouted von Loringhoven, his 
voice barely audible above the excited yells of 
the men and the rending of metal. 

Setting the example the commander dropped 
from the cat-walk, followed by Unter-leutnant 
Klick and most of the crew. A few, imprisoned 
in the foremost gondola, were crushed under 
the ruins of the girders. 

For a moment the spy hesitated to follow 
the example of his companions in peril. Taking 
his courage in his hands, he lowered himself over 
the latticed sides of the gangway. There he 
hung until half stupefied by the fumes of the 
escaping hydrogen ; then, relaxing his hold he 
dropped, landing in a most undignified manner 
upon the equally ruffled von Loringhoven as he 
crawled from under the wreckage . 

In five minutes nothing remained of the raider 
but a mass of gaimt and twisted girders from 
which fluttered the remains of the envelope in 
the grip of the now howling wind. 

Two hours later, Siegfried von Eitelwurmer 
found himself in the presence of the Director 



THE RAIDER'S RETURN 127 

of Aeronautical Intelligence in the official 
quarters of the Air Department — a pretentious 
building in the Wilhelmstrasse at Berlin. 

With him were Ober-leutnant von Loring- 
hoven and half a dozen commanders of the 
Zeppelin Squadron that had just carried out 
the raid over the British Isles. The task of 
reporting upon the raid was about to commence. 
Already the British communique had been 
received, and it was now considered advisable 
to issue a statement for the benefit of the 
German people. 

The only person not present was Otto vcai 
Lohr, the commander of the air squadron, and 
until he put in an appearance the business 
could not be started. 

A telephone bell rang. A uniformed secre- 
tary took up the receiver. 

'* Yes, Herr Schneider, he is here,'* he replied. 
'* I will inform him of your request.'* 

Replacing the instrument the secretary crossed 
the room and addressed the spy. 

*' Herr Kapitan-leutnant Schneider wishes 
to see you, Herr von Eitelwurmer," he an- 
nounced obsequiously. 

** Very good,'* replied the spy. '* Inform me 
when the conference begins.'* 

Kapitan-leutnant Schneider, the German 
Naval Censor-in-Chief , was a bald-headed, loose- 
lipped man of past middle age. He looked. 



128 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

and was, a typical Prussian, subserviently polite 
to his superiors and pointedly arrogant to those 
who were not. Von Eitelwiirmer belonged to 
the former category, for although not of the 
miUtary caste, he enjoyed the confidence of 
the Emperor. That in itself was sufficient to 
cause Kapitan-leutnant Schneider to squirm 
like an eel. It w^as his way of showing his 
pleasure at his visitor's presence. 

'' I wish to ask you, von Eitelwurmer,'' he 
remarked after the preliminary courtesies were 
exchanged, '' concerning the effect of our re- 
ports — my work, you understand — upon the 
Enghsh people. You, living as an Englishman, 
ought to be in a position to inform me.'* 

'' My private opinion, or my official one ? " 
enquired the spy bluntly. 

The Censor shut one eye solemnly. 

'' Your private opinion," he said. 

*' The German communiques seem to be a 
source of amusement to the English," began von 
Eitelwurmer in the same bold tone, for not 
being under the kapit an- leutn ant's jurisdiction 
and having an old grievance against him he 
could afford to "rub it in." ''In fact, the 
censorship in both countries is one of the chief 
weapons of their antagonists. In England bad 
news that we already know of is suppressed, 
and consequently all sorts of disquieting rumours 
get around. The same holds good in the Father- 



THE RAIDER'S RETURN 129 

land. It is like sitting upon the safety valve of 
a boiler : sooner or later " 

'' Yes, yes/* interrupted Schneider. " But 
as far as we Germans are concerned it matters 
little. If the people grow restive, if their 
hunger — and hunger amongst the lower classes 
is acute — goads them to attempted violence the 
danger ends there. Unlike the EngUsh we 
have organised the nation. Every man, woman 
and child realises his or her duty is to obey, 
otherwise we might see the business of Louvain 
enacted upon German soil.'' 

'' The English are of a different tempera- 
ment,'' remarked the spy. ** Reverses do not 
seem to damp their spirits. They have a firm 
faith that in spite of blunders everything will 
come out right for them at the finish. It is 
the fatalism based upon centuries of history. 
Why their government does not take them into 
its confidence puzzles me." 

The Censor shrugged his shoulders. 

*' I do not believe in governments of that 
description," he said. '' Give me our all- 
powerful machinery — the War Council. No 
government yet won a war, but many a govern- 
ment has lost one. Now tell me " 

A discreet tap upon the door interrupted the 
officiars words. 

'' Enter ! " he bellowed. 

A messenger crept stealthily into the room. 
9 



180 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

By his manner it seemed evident that he expected 
to have a book hurled at his head. It was one 
of the kapitan-Ieutnant's usual plaisanteries, 
but on this occasion von Eitelwurmer acted as 
a moral shield. 

The Censor took the proffered paper, read it 
and burst into a roar of laughter. 

" Wait a moment, Herr von Eitelwurmer," 
he said when his mirth had subsided. '' The 
conference won't start for some time. There's 
a fellow wanting an audience — an author, curse 
him ! ril let the press and their parasites 
depending upon it know that there is a censor- 
ship. This fellow wrote a book : With von 
Scheer off Jutland he called it. Since we must 
do something to justify our existence I smashed 
it. The fellow had no influence, so what 
matters ? And now, I suppose, he's kicking. 
Send him in, you thick-headed numbskull ; send 
him in." 

The author of the banned book entered 
the room. He was of short stature, being 
barely five feet two in height, inclined to 
corpulence, and very white-faced. His heavy, 
bristling, up-turned moustache contrasted in- 
congruously with his small beady eyes that 
peered through a large pair of spectacles of 
enormous magnifying powers. 

For quite two minutes Kapitan-leutnant 
Schneider hurled a torrent of abuse at the head 



THE RAIDER'S RETURN 131 

of his caller, punctuating every sentence with 
furious oaths. Yet, somewhat to the Censor's 
surprise, the Httle man showed no signs of 
quailing under the onslaught. 

** Might I ask what there is in the book to 
which you take exception ? '' he asked. 

'* The whole of it," thundered the despot. 

*' Could not certain portions be revised ? " 

'* No ; I object to it in its entirety.'' 

'* Then, since the story is based upon Admiral 
von Scheer's report you object to the official 
dispatch ? " 

For a moment the Press Censor was taken 
aback. It never entered into his head that this 
meek and mild man could or would put a poser 
like this. 

" No ; I won't say that," replied Schneider. 
" But either you are a perverter of the truth 
or you know too much. The work has had the 
highest Admiralty consideration, and, as you 
ought to know, censorship has only one object 
in view, namely, the public interest. If you 
are ordered to say that black is white you must 
say it. You haven't, and you must abide by 
the consequences." 

'' One moment," interposed the still unruffled 
man. " Can you give me one solitary instance 
of what you object to in the book ? " 

The kapitan-leutnant puckered his shaggy 
eyebrows 4 



132 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

" No, I cannot/* he replied, with consider- 
able mildness. '' I have forgotten all about 
it/' 

" And that is what you term the highest 
Admiralty consideration," added the author 
cuttingly. *' Very good ; I will not trouble 
you further at present, except to show you this : 
a commendation from no less a personage than 
Admiral von Tirpitz.'' 

'* Himmel ! *' gasped the astonished official. 
*' Why did you not tell me this before ? '* 

*' Because I had not the chance,*' replied 
the caller gathering up his papers. '* Good 
afternoon/' 

'* You are perhaps sorry I waited ? " re- 
marked von Eitelwurmer, when the two were 
again alone. 

Schneider frowned. 

*' If the fool had only made out that we had 
won a great victory all would have been well,*' 
he replied. '' The Press and its satellites '* 

'* The Conference has started, Herr von 
Eitelwurmer," announced the secretary. '* I 
could not inform you before as the Kapitan- 
leutnant was engaged/' 

The spy returned to the council-room. 
Seated at a long table were the Zeppelin 
commanders. As each made his report the 
statement was taken down by an official short- 
hand writer, while the aviators were subjected 



THE RAIDER'S RETURN 133 

to a stiff examination by the Director of Intel- 
ligence. 

Some were most emphatic in their statements. 
They knew exactly where they had been ; 
others were not so sure, but beUeved that they 
had been to such and such a town ; others, some- 
what indiscreetly but honestly, confessed that 
they had lost their bearings. All were agreed, 
however, that the Yorkshire towns of Brig- 
borough and Broadbeck had been missed by 
the raiding aircraft. 

'* It seems pretty certain that the geography 
of the English authorities is at fault,'* com- 
mented the Director. *' They report that our 
Zeppelins visited a North Midland county — 
that referred to your part of the business, von 
Loringhoven ; I always thought that Lancashire 
was one of the six northern counties of England : 
let us hope that some day it will be one of a 
German dependency. However, we'll issue a 
report that our airships bombed Brigborough 
and Broadbeck. Then these English will think 
that you do not know where you have been, 
and that is exactly what we want them to 
think. Now, von Papen, draw up a suitable 
report for home consumption. In these strenu- 
ous times we must satisfy the public demands. 
It will keep the common people quiet for a 
time, and, if they do find out, there may then 
be something good to detract their attention." 



184 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

The spy smiled grimly. He recalled a saying 
quoted by a German officer to his captor : *' We 
Germans can never be gentlemen — you English 
will always be fools/' The first part held 
good, but as for the second, his residence in 
Great Britain had taught him that behind the 
apathy of the British nation there was Some- 
thing — a Something that, when aroused, would 
form more than a match for the cunning and 
brutality of his fellow countrymen. Reluct- 
antly he had to admit that. 

** Why do you smile?'' asked the Director, 
fixing von Eitelwurmer with his eye. 

*' I was thinking," repHed the spy. ''Think- 
ing of how I can get back to England. My 
good work there is not yet completed." 

'' Those twenty thousand marks, hein ? " 
enquired the president, and the rest of the 
assembly laughed uproariously at the director's 
jest. 



CHAPTER XIII 

EXIT SEAPLANE NO. 445B 

'* Why did I leave my comfortable bunk and 
try my hand at fishing at night upon the wild 
North Sea ? *' enquired Lieutenant Fuller as 
he withdrew his benumbed hands from his 
airman's gauntlets and fumbled ineffectually 
for his electric torch. *' Dash it all, man ! 
What are you fiddling about with ? " 

'' Only that releasing lever/' replied Kirk- 
wood from the depths of the fuselage. " That 
confounded Zep ! If only the blessed thing 
hadn't jibbed I'd have strafed her, sure as 
fate." 

" Chuck it ! " ordered Fuller. " Let the beastly 
thing alone, or you may drop a plum. This 
child doesn't want to be hoist with his own 
petard. Well, thank goodness we're afloat. 
That's some consolation. Where the hooligan 
Harry is that confounded torch ? " 

** Take mine," said the A. P. passing for'ard 
the desired article. *' Say, old man, we ap- 
pear to be rolling more to starboard than to 
t'other side. Hope the float isn't leaking." 

135 



186 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

Fuller leant over the side. It was too dark 
to discern anything. Prudence forbade him 
to flash the torch upon the invisible support — 
a support so light and frail that the wonder of 
it all was that it hadn't given way under the 
force of the impact with the waves. 

The crippled seaplane was tossing and rolling 
under the combined action of the short crested 
waves and the stiff breeze. It wajited about 
two hours to daylight. Meanwhile every minute 
saw the amphilDious craft drifting further and 
further from shore. 

There were no signs of the '' Hippodrome. *' 
Possibly the seaplane carrier had resumed her 
voyage, in the supposition that the missing 
hornet had made one of the fishing harbours 
on the Yorkshire coast. The absence of any 
wireless call rather knocked that theory on 
the head. On the other hand the '' Hippo- 
drome '' could not, without great risk of being 
submarined, since she was unaccompanied by 
destroyers or patrol-boats, steam seaward on an 
apparent wild-goose chase for her errant child. 

*' She's holding, I fancy," said Fuller refer- 
ring to the suspected float. *' Anyhow we've 
kept afloat so far and there's no reason why we 
shouldn't do so until I tackle this most re- 
fractory motor." 

Making cautious use of the flash lamp the 
pilot minutely examined the complicated mech- 



EXIT SEAPLANE NO. 445B 137 

anism. It was not long before the mischief 
was discovered. Not only was the petrol-tank 
completely perforated by three shrapnel bullets, 
but the pipe leading from it to the carburetter 
had been cut clean through. That accounted 
for the engine running for some seconds before 
coming to a stop. Until the last of the petrol 
in the carburetter had been drawn into the 
cylinders firing was still taking place. 

Further examination revealed the fact that 
the motor was otherwise undamaged, although, 
judging by the holes in the fuselage and through 
the planes, it seemed wonderful that pilot and 
observer had escaped being hit. 

" Can I bear a hand ? '' enquired Kirkwood. 

" No, thanks,'' was the reply. '' Close enough 
quarters as it is. We should only be tumbling 
over one another.'* 

By the aid of a piece of flexible tubing lined 
with indiarubber the broken portions of the 
petrol pipe were temporarily reunited. The 
next step was to plug the holes in the tank. 
This task was performed by means of a metal 
instrument consisting of a metal rod of about 
a third of an inch in diameter and four inches 
in length. Two thirds of the length was 
threaded and fitted with a '' butterfly " nut in 
front of which was a cylindrical plug of gutta- 
percha faced with indiarubber. At the other 
extremity was a swivelled cross-bar of about 



188 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

an inch in length and so arranged that it could 
lie in a straight line with the rod. 

This end Fuller inserted in one of the per- 
forations in the side of the tank. Then, giving 
the rod half a turn, he allowed the swivel bar 
to fall into a position at right angles to the rod. 
It was then impossible to withdraw the latter 
owing to the cross-piece engaging on the inner 
side of the tank. 

The flight-lieutenant's next move was to screw 
the pliable plug hard against the perforated 
metal by means of the '* butterfly '* nut, and by 
so doing hole No. i was repaired — the first of six. 

While Fuller was engaged upon the work of 
making good defects Kirkwood, his mind still 
uneasy on the subject of the float, lowered 
himself over the side. 

Gaining the upper side of the float he felt 
along it with his hand. As he did so a wave 
swept the frail buoyant structure. 

*' By Jove ! '* he exclaimed. '* This is a treat. 
The water is quite warm.'' 

Compared with the intense coldness of the 
upper air the sea, at this time of the year, was 
indeed tepid. The contrasted temperature 
acted like balm to his numbed hands. He 
revelled in the comfort. 

While thus engaged the A. P. discerned a 
large object looming through the darkness — a 
cylinder nearly a yard in diameter. It was 



EXIT SEAPLANE NO. 445B 189 

floating with very little of its bulk showing 
above the surface, and, owing to the compara- 
tively rapid drift of the seaplane, it appeared 
to be moving steadily through the water and 
bearing straight down upon the float. 

For a brief instant Kirkwood remained stock 
still in his recumbent position, unable to raise 
a finger or utter a cry. The object was a 
floating mine. 

He could discern the horns with remarkable 
clearness, for the thing seemed surrounded by 
an aura of phosphorescent light. One blow from 
the imderside of the float upon those delicately 
adjusted projections with which the mine simply 
bristled would result in utter annihilation. 

Kirkwood's mind was steeled to the dangers 
of a ten or fifteen thousand feet fall through 
space; but this, to him, unusual danger liter- 
ally took the wind out of his sails. 

Then, like a flash, the reaction set in. The 
will to cope with sudden perils asserted itself. 
A plan, unpretentious in all its details, formu- 
lated in his active brain. 

Throwing himself flat upon the float and 
grasping one of the supports with his left hand, 
the A. P. hung as far in front as he possibly 
could without losing his balance. His out- 
stretched hand came in dehberate contact 
with the drifting horror. The smooth, slimy 
surface — for the mine had evidently been in the 



140 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

water for some time — offered no resistance, and 
he thrust until his fingers '' brought up " 
against one of the horns. 

How far short of the minimum pressure re- 
quired to snap the brittle projection and allow 
the chemicals contained therein to ignite Kirk- 
wood w^as never to know. He w^as just aware 
that either the seaplane or the mine was sw^ing- 
ing clear — perhaps it was a mutual " get out 
of my way " affair. 

Scraping the forward outer corner of the float 
by a bare six inches the infernai contrivance, 
fended off by the A.P.'s outstretched hand, 
gUded past, until with a sigh of rehef the 
observer watched it disappear in the darkness. 

For quite a minute he hung on, his heart 
beating like a piston, his eyes peering through 
the blackness ahead. Floating mines, he knew, 
were generally in considerable numbers. The 
fact that one peril had been averted was no 
guarantee that all danger from these jettisoned 
cylinders of potential death was over. 

'* Where the Christopher Columbus axe you, 
old bird ? " exclaimed Fuller, who, pausing in 
his work, had missed the rest of the '' crew." 
'* What, down on that float ? What's wrong 
now ? '* 

'' We nearly bumped into a mine,'* reported 
the A. P. '* The beastly thing was within six 
inches of my nose.'* 



EXIT SEAPLANE NO. 445B 141 

'* A miss is as good as a mile/' remarked the 
pilot nonchalantly. '' If the thing had gone 
up six inches or six feet wouldn't have made 
any difference. They wouldn't have found 
either of us, and there wouldn't be enough of 
the pair of us to make a satisfying meal for a 
solitary North Sea herring. Look here. Up 
with you and give me a hand at filling the tank. 
I want to test my handiwork." 

By the time the repairs were completed to 
the satisfaction of all hands, grey dawn was 
breaking over the wild North Sea. As far as 
the eye could penetrate the haze that hung 
about in detached patches the expanse of water 
was unbroken. Not a sail of any description 
was in sight and the beethng cliffs of the York- 
shire coast had long since dipped beneath the 
horizon. 

** Fill her right up now," continued the pilot, 
indicating the repaired tank. ** It's lucky we 
had so many spare tins of stuff on board. We'll 
mop up most of the petrol during the plug home 
against the wind, I reckon." 

Fuller, deep in final adjustments, and Kirk- 
wood hard at work emptying the contents of 
the petrol-cans into the tank, were unaware of 
the new menace that threatened them, until a 
huge grey shape loomed up within fifty yards 
to windward of the seaplane. 

The shape was a German submarine mine- 



142 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

layer. She was running awash, while on the 
short, narrow platform in the wake of her 
conning-tower stood a couple of officers and a 
half a dozen seamen. 

'' You vos surrender make ! '' shouted one 
of the Germans. 

'' I'll see you to blazes first ! '* retorted 
Fuller as he frantically manipulated the starting 
mechanism. 

For once the accurately-timed engine failed 
to respond to the master-hand. A mutinous 
back-fire was the only result. Fuller tried 
again but ineffectually. 

The Hun submarine then thought it time to 
butt in. This she did most neatly but none 
the less completely by running her nose into 
the resistless structure of the jibbing seaplane. 
Her rate of speed was but three or four knots, 
but that was enough. Amidst the rending of 
struts, the crashing of the shattered floats and 
the harp-Uke twang of severed tension-wires the 
luckless 445B turned absolutely over and dis- 
appeared beneath the waves, leaving pilot and 
observer struggling in the water. 

'' Dash it all ! '' soliloquised Fuller as he 
struck out for the submarine. '' This is the 
second time the Huns have nabbed me. I'll 
bet there'll be a third. Just my rotten luck. 
Come on, old bird, half a dozen more strokes. 
They are going to heave us out of the ditch." 



CHAPTER XIV 

BUTTERFLY 

" I SAY, pater.'' 

" Eh ? '* ejaculated Peter Barer oft without 
looking up from his work, which happened to 
be revising a proof. 

'* I saw Betty Deringhame last night. I 
forgot to tell you,'' began Billy as a '* pre- 
liminary canter " to the recital of his raid- 
night adventure. 

'' More fool you," grumbled his parent. 

'* I beg your pardon " began the flight- 
sub, rather taken aback — ^not by his sire's 
brusqueness, for Barcroft Senior when engaged 
in the non-creative work of proof-reading was 
like a bear with a sore head, but by the off-hand 
manner in which he had received the announce- 
ment of the girl's name. 

*' Look here ! " exclaimed Peter, throwing 
down his pen and incidentally bespattering 
with ink the long, narrow sheet of printed 
matter. ** Why on earth you want me to 
preach you a homily on the evils of betting " 

143 



144 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

'' Betting ?'' interrupted Billy. "I said 
nothing about betting. What I said was : ' I 
— saw — Betty — Deringhame — last — night.' " 

Peter swung round in his revolving chair, 
and raised his eyebrows in mild surprise. 

'' Did you ? " he asked. '' My mistake, but 
why did you murmur that most interesting news 
into my deaf ear ? \\'hat's she doing in this 
part ? " 

Billy duly reported the state of affairs. 

*' Jolly hard lines on the girl and her mother, 
too," was his parent's verdict. '' Of course 
women of all classes are making munitions 
now, and all praise to them for doing it. I am 
not referring to that, but to the fact that Mrs. 
Deringhame has had a come-dowTi in life. Did 
you ever hear how it occurred ? " 

'' No," rephed the yoimg officer. '' You see, 
I really didn't like to ask Betty, and she's too 
jolly brave to whine over her troubles." 

'' Sit down and fill your pipe," continued 
Barcroft Senior. '' No matches ? Hang it, 
there were three or four boxes on my desk this 
morning. Here, never mind, use a spill." 

Billy laid a restraining hand upon his father's 
arm. 

** Don't use your precious proofs, pater," he 
observed. 

" Bless my soul ! You were only just in time, 
my boy. Another second and that printed 



BUTTERFLY 145 

stuff would have been mingling in the form of 
smoke with the Lancashire atmosphere. Ah, 
yes ; we were discussing the Deringhames. 
The same old tale, Billy : an inexperienced 
woman and a rascally lawyer. Not that all 
lawyers are rascals, you understand, but the 
profession contains a high percentage of rogues 
who, but for their knowledge of the law and of 
how far to go without overstepping the lawyer- 
made laws of the land, would be doing time. 
This chap was a cute one. He persuaded Mrs. 
Deringhame to invest most of her capital in 
certain concerns of which he was a sort of 
sleeping partner. In five years he had literally 
done her out of a cool £6,000 ; and then, pre- 
tending to set matters right, he prevailed upon 
her to mortgage her house at Alderdene. Nomin- 
ally he was her agent ; in reality he was agent 
for the mortgagee, who was himself. You see 
the move ? 

*' Then, when war broke out, he drew in the 
mortgage, bringing an excuse that tightness of 
money necessitated the step. Mrs. Deringhame 
was unable at short notice to meet the demand. 
In vain she pleaded for time. Her last remnant 
of capital vanished into the rogue's clutches.'' 

'* The rotter ! " ejaculated Billy indignantly. 
'* And what is the bounder's name. Do you 
happen to know ? " 

'' Yes," replied Mr. Barcroft. '' Let me see 
10 



146 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

— ^yes I have it : Antonius Grabb, of the firm 
of Grabb and Gott, of Ely Place." 

" By Jupiter ! " muttered Billy. 

Mr. Barer oft raised his eyebrows enquiringly, 
but his son made no further audible comment. 
He had made the unpleasing discovery that the 
man who had wronged Betty and her mother 
was Bobby Kirkwood's uncle, and when, in the 
natural course of events the aforementioned 
uncle died, the A. P., should he be still surviving, 
would benefit considerably under the will of 
Antonius Grabb. 

" By the bye,'' said Peter abruptly changing 
the subject. *' Seen anything of Entwistle ? ** 

" Met him coming from the bath-room half 
an hour ago ; he was limping a good deal,*' 
repHed Billy. '' I don't suppose it will be long 
before he's down." 

'' I've a job for you, my boy," continued 
Peter. '' They've just telephoned through to 
say that Entwistle's car won't be able to fetch 
him. My perambulating box of tricks and 
petrol is out of action somewhere in the hills. 
So I want you to drive our guest in the trap to 
Barborough. I'd go myself if it weren't for 
these confounded proofs. That idiot of a 
comp. will persist in printing ' stem ' for ' stern.' 
The drive will do you good — blow some of last 
night's cobwebs away." 

*' Steady, pater," protested Billy with a 



BUTTERFLY 147 

hearty laugh; ''I am no hand at driving horse- 
flesh. Give me something in the motor line 
and I'm all there." 

'' You'll be all right with Butterfly/' declared 
Barcroft Senior. '' She's the steadiest-footed 
quadruped that ever stepped it out in shafts. 
A perfect gem, and the envy of the countryside." 

He spoke with conviction, but the good 
character bestowed upon the animal was based 
simply upon hearsay. '' Butterfly " was a new 
importation, having joined the establishment 
of Ladybird Fold only a week previously, and 
during that period she had either rusticated in 
the adjoining meadow or in her stable. 

The flight-sub walked across the study to 
the open window. Without, hill and dale were 
bathed in the autumnal sunlight, and, having 
reviled the neighbourhood of Tarleigh in the 
darkness of the previous night, Billy felt com- 
pelled to render ample reparation to its charms 
as revealed by the light of day. 

For miles there was a succession of hills and 
valleys, until the vista was terminated by the 
frowning Pennines. The country was well- 
wooded, except for the grassy moorlands and 
bare yet picturesque outlines of the pikes and 
fells. Here and there were signs of human 
habitation in the form of well-built stone 
cottages, while in some of the steeper valleys 
could be discerned the chimneys and roofs of 



148 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

various mills and bleaching works. Nor did 
these lofty ''stacks'' disfigure the landscape. 
They seemed to harmonise with nature. The 
only blot in the vista was perhaps the line of 
electric cables with which the Zeppelin's obser- 
vation car had so nearly collided with disastrous 
result on the previous night. 

fei the middle distance a haze of smoke 
through which a regular forest of factory 
chimneys could be dimly discerned marked the 
position of Barborough. Distance had lent 
not exactly enchantment but a discreet contrast 
to the rural outlook, and while taking in the 
panoramic effect with its attendant peaceful- 
ness Billy Barcroft could hardly realise that 
eight hours previously a cowardly night-raider 
had been hurling down her death-dealing missiles 
upon this portion of Britannia's sea-girt domain. 

'' Right-o, pater ! " he exclaimed. '' I'll risk 
it." 

He spoke feelingly. The perils of his pro- 
fession he regarded with equanimity. It was 
his choice, and he had no cause to regret it. 
But the idea of driving a quadruped of sorts 
along those steep roads and through the crowded 
streets of Barborough filled him with genuine 
apprehension. 

'' Hang it 1 " he soliloquised. '' There's no 
cut-out on a gee-gee. I know how to stop an 
engine right enough, but a horse has a brain 



BUTTERFLY 149 

of its own and can be jolly erratic when it 
wants to. What on earth possessed the gover- 
nor to go in for a quadruped when he has a 
rattling good car ? *' 

Just at that moment the harmony of the 
morning was interrupted by the high-pitched 
voice of Mrs. Carter engaged in animated con- 
versation with Mrs. Sarah Crumpet, the D.T. — 
otherwise Domestic Treasure — who *' did ** for 
Andrew Norton, Esquire. 

Although the two ladies were at a side door 
that opened directly into the scullery their 
voices could be heard with astounding clearness. 

" Eh ! An' tha' found tha bed not slept upon ? ' ' 
she exclaimed. *' Mr. Norton may ha' been 
called away a-purpose." 

'' Nay, that 'e wur not, Jane," declared Mrs. 
Crumpet. ** I'm a-tellin' on ye, sitha'. Mr. 
Norton 'e meant to come back, for the whisky 
was on th' table." 

** Methinks he looks to my employer for his 
nightcap," remarked Mrs. Carter with asperity. 

'* An' I was so overcome like," continued 
Sarah ignoring the insmuation, '' that I simply 
'ad to 'ave a drop — the first time I ever 'ad a 
chance up yonder." 

** 'As 'e paid thee thy brass ? " enquired the 
sympathetic Mrs. Carter. 

** Ay, that 'e did, thanks be. But it seems 
most strange-like, this business." 



150 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

'Til tell th' master," asserted Mrs. Carter 
as the other woman walked away. '* An' sitha', 
if you're feelin' out o' sorts again, Mrs. Crumpet, 
now's your chance afore the bottle's locked up." 

With this parting injunction the '' help " of 
Ladybird Fold shut the door and made her way 
to the study. 

'' Yes, I know," said Mr. Barcroft when the 
Little Liver Pill had duly reported the absence 
of Mr. Norton. '' He was here last night and 
left in a hurry before I returned ; I'll stroll across 
in the course of the forenoon. Ah, good morn- 
ing, Entwistle ; how's that foot?" 

'' Better, thaaks," rephed his guest. " Gives 
me a bit of a twinge when I set it to ground. 
Well, what's the morning's news ? " 

'' Papers not in yet, not that I expect any 
enhghtenment on the subject of the raid in the 
Press report. There are all sorts of rumours 
flying about, as is to be expected. But it will 
be all right some day — when we tackle the 
business properly. These Zeps. will come once 
too often. It's a mystery to me that they 
haven't summed up the results and come to 
the conclusion that these haphazard raids aren't 
worth the candle." 

*' Unless it is to divert the attention of the 
German people from the Western Front," re- 
marked Entwistle. 

** Quite possible," agreed Peter. " Now to 



BUTTERFLY 151 

breakfast. Tm sorry your car couldn't come to 
fetch you — not that I want to lose you exactly, 
although I have a batch of proofs in hand/' 
he added bluntly. '* You understand ? Billy 
will drive you into Barborough.'' 

'' And what do you think of the measures 
taken to combat the Zeppelin menace ? *' 
enquired Entwistle addressing himself to Billy. 

The flight-sub shook his head. 

'* I'm afraid I cannot venture an opinion," 
he replied. '' Both branches of the Air Service 
are doing their level best — they cannot do 
more." 

'* You won't be able to draw Billy, Entwistle," 
added his parent with a laugh. '' Even I can- 
not get him to talk shop." 

*' Pity some military men I know aren't like 
him," said the vet. '' Nowadays it's either too 
much shop or too much official reticence. The 
middle path seems to have been lost sight of. 
But any more of the mystery of your friend 
Andrew Norton ? I couldn't help hearing your 
housekeeper holding forth just now." 

'' Can't understand it," replied Barcroft 
Senior. '' Why Norton should bolt out of my 
house and desert his own all night is a complete 
puzzle. I can only put forward the theory that 
the Zep. raid made him lose his mental balance 
— and he's a fellow with a steady head, I fancy. 
If he doesn't put in an appearance before lunch 



152 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

time I feel it is my duty to report the circum- 
stances to that pillar of intelligence the Tarleigh 
police-sergeant/' 

'' And possibly get yourself arrested on sus- 
picion/' chuckled Entwistle. '' Norton was last 
seen in this house, remember." 

*' It would be an experience that would afford 
practical knowledge as far as my work is con- 
cerned/' decided Peter. '' Nothing like real life 
to work into a plot, you know/' 

Breakfast over, Entwistle and the flight-sub 
went out into the garden for the time-honoured 
matutinal pipe until it was time for Peter's 
guest to take his departure. 

'' Come along, Billy," shouted his father. 
*' Bear a hand at getting Butterfly harnessed." 

The flight-sub was in mufti. His uniform had 
been damaged beyond repair during his toil 
amidst the ruins of that devastated street in 
Barborough. A scar across his cheek and 
several livid weals on the back of his hands 
testified to his labours amongst the burning 
debris. 

Somewhat proudly Peter threw open the 
doors of the combined coach-house and stable. 
Within was a small governess cart and a sleek 
and obviously overfed donkey. 

'' Allow me to introduce you to Butterfly," 
he announced. '* Warranted to be quiet in 
harness and a thoroughly good trotter." 



BUTTERFLY 158 

Billy said not a word. He had contemplated 
with considerable misgivings the imposed task 
of driving a spirited mare through a populous 
district ; but those doubts were as naught 
compared with the prospect of piloting a humble 
"moke'' through traffic in a strange town. 

"Thank goodness I'm in mufti!'' he solilo- 
quised with a deep-drawn sigh. '' ' The con- 
demned man walked firmly to the scaffold ' 
sort of feeling. Well, here goes ; no one is likely 
to know me in this show." 

Putting the animal into the shafts was an 
evolution that required the utmost tact on the 
part of Barcroft Senior and much nautical skill 
on the part of his son. It was their first attempt 
in this direction. 

*' Get her this way while I hold the shafts/' 
exclaimed Peter. '' Gee up, old lady." 

Butterfly obeyed and took up a position 
athwart the hawse of the craft, as Billy ex- 
pressed it. 

'' Round with her," continued Barcroft Senior. 
" I can't hold these infernal shafts up all day." 

Putting his shoulders to the donkey's hind 
quarters Billy succeeded in " slewing the boat's 
stern round." 

*' Easy astern ! " he shouted in ringing 
nautical tones. 

Surprised beyond measure, Butterfly turned 
her head to take stock of this unusual type of 



154 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

groom, with the result that the flight-sub's face 
received a good buffet from the animars nose. 
Simultaneously the brass trappings of the 
harness rasped Peter's hand. 

'* Confound it ! " he roared, relaxing his 
grasp and allowing one shaft to fall with a 
clatter upon the cobbles. '' The brute's barked 
my knuckles." 

Then, reasoning that the damage afforded a 
sufficient excuse to ** knock off " his profes- 
sional labours he held his peace on the nature 
of his injuries. 

" Warranted quiet in harness," quoted Billy 
as his parent cautiously retrieved the shaft. 
'* My word, pater, there's not much room 
between the dock-gates. Think she'll take 
it?" 

'* Ought to," replied Barcroft Senior dubi- 
ously. '' Now, have another shot. I wish the 
brute had a reverse gear." 

By dint of mingled coaxing and physical 
force Butterfly was backed between the shafts. 
Then both men regarded the result of their 
triumph with chastened looks. 

'' Strikes me we've missed this sling arrange- 
ment on the starboard side," remarked Billy. 
'* That leather thing ought to be round the 
shaft. She'll have to forge ahead a bit." 

''Right-o!" assented his parent. '* Gee-up. 
Oh, dash it all ! That's my toe this time." 



BUTTERFLY 155 

For Butterfly, in "forging ahead '* had 
brought her hind hoof heavily upon Peter^s foot, 
which happened to be encased in a carpet 
sHpper. 

At length the evolutions arrived at a state that 
found the donkey in the shafts. Father and 
son stood back to admire their handiwork and 
to puzzle out the way to adjust the seemingly 
chaotic tangle of harness. 

** Why not ask Entwistle ? '' suggested the 
flight-sub. '' He's a vet. He ought to know 
how this gear is rove.'' 

Mr. Barcroft shook his head. He did not 
like to admit defeat. 

** Can't ask him to hobble out here with that 
sprained ankle of his,'' he said. '' Unfortu- 
nately I'm not used to the job." 

'' So I should imagine, pater," added Billy 
pointedly. '* Well, we've got to get on with 
the business. I'll make sure that everything's 
lashed up securely. That's the main point. 
If it isn't right it can't be helped." 

The task of harnessing completed Butterfly 
was led out of the stable, an operation that 
nearly resulted in Peter being pinned against 
the door-post by one of the wheels. 

'' She's perfectly docile now she's in the trap," 
he decided as the donkey walked demurely 
round to the front of the house. '' That's 
right, Entwistle. Another hour will see you 



156 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S 

safely home. Good-bye, don't forget to look 
me up at any time. Up you get, Billy.'* 

'' Thanks, I'm not having any at present,'* 
decided the flight-sub. '' I'll lead her down 
the narrow lane until we get to the high-road. 
Now, then, my hearty ; easy ahead once 
more." 

Downhill the donkey walked sedately ; Billy's 
confidence showed signs of returning as he led 
the sure-footed animal along the rough-surfaced 
track. Just as it joined the main road there 
was a short, steep rise. 

''Jump in," exclaimed Entwistle ; ''she'll 
take it all right." 

" I'll give her a chance," demurred the 
flight-sub. " My weight will make a difference. 
Now, then, old lady ; show us what you can 
do." 

Butterfly rose nobly to the occasion. So did 
the shafts, for the animal walked away leaving 
the governess-cart in a state of most unstable 
equilibrium. By dint of hanging on to one 
of the shafts Billy saved his companion from 
being deposited upon the ground, while Butter- 
fly, having parted company with the trap, 
stopped and surveyed the antics of the still 
oscillating conveyance. 

" Never knew a reef-knot to slip like that 
before," exclaimed Billy, regarding the trailing 
traces. 



BUTTERFLY 157 

" It would be better if the traces were made 
fast in the orthodox manner, I fancy/' suggested 
Entwistle, alighting from the cart and Hmping 
to the shafts. '' There, that's the way — 
ahhough it's not done navy fashion." 

Along the main road Butterfly showed no 
signs of " speed-form." Downhill she walked 
slowly ; uphill she plodded with even less 
haste, and since it was all either up or down 
progress was far from swift. 

'' I'll have to have another shave when we 
get to Barborough," remarked Billy with an 
emphasis on the '' when." '* I scraped at 
eight this morning, but at this rate I'll have 
cultivated a beard before Butterfly lands us 
at your place." 

'' The first mile," commented Entwistle, 
pointing to a milestone. '* Twenty minutes 
fifteen seconds. Some record that." 

A short distance beyond Blackberry Cross 
the donkey's manoeuvres began to cause Billy 
additional alarm. Without any apparent reason 
Butterfly would describe a semi-circle, keeping 
her eyes fixed upon something in the road. 

'* Starboard, you blighter ! " roared the 
amateur driver, tugging at one of the reins. 
** You'll have us in the ditch in half a shake." 

" PecuUar — very," remarked the vet. 

*' A very peculiar craft in all respects," added 
Billy. '* She's not used to this style of yoke- 



158 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

line. Steady, you swab ! You're swinging to 
port again." 

" Fve twigged it/* announced Entwistle. 
" She's jibbing at those manholes. They seem 
to irritate her. We'll have to be jolly careful 
when we get to the tram-lines or she'll try 
conclusions with a car. I tell you what : while 
you are in Barborough " 

'' If we ever get there," muttered Billy. 

'' You ought to get that brute shod. She 
may do better on the metallic roads." 

Two hours later Butterfly and party were 
in the thickest part of the traffic. To the 
flight-sub it was a sort of nightmare. Tram 
after tram had to be stopped to enable the 
erratic animal to pass, while a crowd of urchins 
(practically all the unwashed of Barborough, 
Billy thought) tailed on to the '' Dead March 
in Saul " procession and contributed rounds 
of applause as Barer oft steered the donkey 
through the traffic mostly by means of his 
shoulders directed against the animal's ribs. 

" Come in," said Entwistle as the party finally 
drew up outside the vet's house. '' Put your 
steed in the stable and stop and have lunch." 

'* Thanks all the same," said Billy. *' I 
must be getting back, or it will be dark before 
I see Ladybird Fold again." 

The two men said good-bye, and Barcroft, 
leading the animal, set off on the return journey. 



BUTTERFLY 159 

" ril leave the moke at a blacksmith's, and 
while the thing's being shod I may as well 
call and see Betty/' he decided, and proceeded 
to put his plan into execution by enquiring 
of one of the attendant throng — he suffered 
their presence with equanimity by this time 
— where a shoesmith was to be found. 

" Fine animal, sir," remarked the smith. 
" Best I've seen for a long time. Won't hurry, 
eh ? Well, p'raps 'tes not being shod. How 
long will it take ? Say half an hour." 

Billy deliberated. It was not much use 
going to '' Mill View " if he had to be back in 
thirty minutes. On the other hand he could 
easily put up the animal at Two Elms and save 
time on the return journey. Besides, curiosity 
prompted him to watch the forthcoming opera- 
tion. 

The smith was a powerfully-built fellow from 
his waist upwards. His chest was of enormous 
depth, his breast and arm muscles stood out 
like the gnarled trunk of a tree. But his lower 
limbs were so thin that they seemed incapable 
of supporting the bulky *' upperworks." 

Butterfly submitted graciously to the initial 
stages of the operation, but when it came to 
shoeing the off-side fore-foot she exhibited 
signs of obstinacy. 

'* I'll have to throw her, sir," declared the 
smith. '' Stand aside a bit." 



160 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

Bending he gripped the donkey's legs and 
applied his huge bulk to her ribs. Like a 
felled ox Butterfly fell. 

'' Keep 'er 'ead down, sir/' cautioned the 
smith. '' I won't be long." 

At length the last shoe was nailed on and 
filed smooth. Billy had had about enough of 
it, for the pungent smell of the forge was far 
from pleasant. But not so Butterfly. Appar- 
ently smarting under the indignity she refused 
to rise. 

The smith applied a leather strap, but 
unavailingly. He gripped her head and tried 
to lever it up. The donkey lashed out, narrowly 
missing Billy's shins. 

'' Dunno as 'ow I seed such a brute afore," 
said the smith, scratching his head. '' Look 
'ere, sir ; do you 'old her tail and pull, and 
I'll tackle her 'ead. Now, up you come." 

Butterfly did. With a series of frantic kicks 
she regained her feet, sent the astonished 
smith flying in one direction and Billy in 
another. 

For some seconds the flight-sub was too 
dazed to take any active interest in the sequence 
of events, but when at length he picked him- 
self up and ran to the smithy door. Butterfly's 
heels were just visible as at a good fifteen miles 
an hour she disappeared round the corner of 
the street. 



CHAPTER XV 

RECALLED BY WIRE 

*' She's off home, sir/' said the smith. " Don't 
you fash yousen about 'er. The cart ? Run 
it in 'ere. Twill be all right/' 

Billy paid for the shoeing and walked slowly 
down the street. 

" No good going to see Betty at lunch- 
time/' he soliloquised. *' Might just as well 
see about something to eat.'' 

He made his way towards the cornmarket. 
Here the traffic was at its height. Nobody 
would have thought that twelve hours ago a 
Zeppelin had sought to terrorise these Lan- 
cashire folk with a display of *' f rightfulness," 
and that within two hundred yards a devastated 
street bore testimony to the Huns' feeble efforts. 

*' By Jove, if this had been Karlsruhe or 
Berlin, wouldn't the Kaiser be shedding floods 
of tears!" thought Billy. ^^ Good old British 
public. ' Carry on, carry on — we'll come out 
top-dog all in good time ' — that's the spirit." 

A crowd outside the window of a news office 
attracted his attention. He crossed the road 

11 161 



162 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

in order to read a broadsheet giving the latest 
war news. It was cheerful enough, in all con- 
science : 

*' Two Zeppelins Down. Official.'' 

*' Brief and to the point/' exclaimed Billy. 
" Gives a fellow quite an appetite for lunch. 
Wonder if any of our crowd scored the winning 
hits ? " 

Ten minutes later, while awaiting lunch, 
Billy bought a paper still damp from the press. 

" Honours even ! " he exclaimed. '' The 
R.F.C. bring down one gas-bag in Lincoln- 
shire ; our fellows bag another twenty miles 
off the Yorkshire coast. Hullo ! Here's the 
fly on the ointment : one of our seaplanes 
missing." 

He glanced casually at the rest of the news, 
which consisted mostly of ambiguous and 
contradictory AUied and enemy reports from 
the various fronts, a couple of columns of local 
news and a similar space devoted to racing 
and football. The whole of the front page was 
taken up with an advertisement of somebody's 
Autumn sale. 

" Rot ! " commented Billy forcibly. '' They 
talk about paper shortage, cut down the paper 
by a third, and yet accept a whole page advertise- 
ment of this trash. The back page, I presume, 
is taken up with photographs of engaged 
nonentities that are not of the faintest possible 



RECALLED BY WIRE 163 

interest to decimal ought-ought-one of the 
readers/' 

But the young officer was only partly right. 
In one column was an item of ** Stop Press 
News " printed in blurred type : — 

" The Missing Airmen : Admiralty report 
that missing seaplane was piloted by Flight- 
lieutenant John Fuller, with Assist. -Pay- 
master Robert Kirkwood as observer." 

For some moments Billy stared vacantly at 
the paper. He could hardly realise the truth 
of the bald statement. It seemed incredible. 
Never before, during the '' Hippodrome's '' 
commission, had a seaplane set out on a parti- 
cular duty and failed to return. Fuller was 
a thoroughly capable man ; Kirkwood — yes 
— there was nothing to complain about the 
way in which he carried out his duties. Had 
he, Billy, not been on leave the possibilities 
were that Kirkwood would have flown with him. 

Barcroft was essentially of a sanguine nature. 
He had pictured several of his brother-officers 
coming a *' crash," but never himself. It is 
the same sort of spirit that pervades the men 
in the trenches. Others might '' go west " 
but not themselves. It is only on rare occa- 
sions that a fighting man has a presentiment 
that he will go under. 

'' I'm frightfully sick that I wasn't on board 



164 BILLY Bi^rCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

instead of being on leave/' thought the flight- 
sub. *' Just my rotten luck. Wonder what 
has happened to Fuller and Kirkwood ? Miss- 
ing. Perhaps ; but I'll stake my all on Fuller. 
He'll turn up trumps right enough." 

Nevertheless Barcroft spent a miserable after- 
noon. He felt too unsettled to carry out his 
original programme of callir.g at Mill View. 
The desertion of Butterfly he had practically 
forgotten. All he wanted to do was to go home 
and await news of his missing chums. 

Meanwhile Peter Barcroft, having completed 
his precious proofs to the accompaniment of 
a choice selection of literary profanity, set out 
to post the result of his labours. 

It was a good mile to the nearest pillar-box, 
which was on the summit of the hill overlooking 
Blackberry Cross, and was cleared at the early 
hour of four p.m. 

'' Nice walk on a fine day," commented 
Peter, '' but there'll be trouble when it blows, 
rains or snows. A bit of a change from having 
a pillar-box outside one's door, and where one 
can post at ten in the evening with the absolute 
certainty of the letter being deUvered in Town 
the next morning. W onder if I'U meet Billy 
on his way back ? " 

He whistled for the two dogs and, checking 
their impetuosity, walked briskly down the lane. 



RECALLED BY WIRE 165 

" Pity the car's crocked," he soliloquised. 
*' Might have taken Billy round and shown 
him the country. By Jove, this air is fine! 
Makes a fellow glad to be alive. Hope Billy 
will have fine weather while he's here.'' 

His plans for the entertainment of his sailor 
son were interrupted by his being nearly run 
down by a cyclist postman, who, turning sharply 
from the high road into the lane leading to 
Ladybird Fold, managed to miss the occupier 
of that delectable spot by a few inches. 

'' Sorry, sir." 

'* Don't mention it," replied Peter affably. 
*' A miss is as good as a mile. Anything for 
me ? You're early this afternoon." 

*' A telegram for you, sir ; postmaster he 
sent me with it, seeing it's on my way home 
and there'll not be a lad at t'office." 

Peter took the orange-coloured envelope and 
opened it. Within was a form bearing the 
words : 

** Report for duty at Rosyth immediately." 

'* No answer," said Peter shortly ; then 
*' You might put this in the post for me," 
handing the man the stamped envelope. 

Barcroft Senior retraced his steps. Dashed 
to the ground were the castles in the air he was 
building concerning Billy's programme. " Jolly 
rough luck," he decided, that a youngster's leave 
should be curtailed in that off-hand manner. 



166 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

Then he realised that there was a higher 
claim. His son was wanted — urgently. Personal 
considerations were nothing compared with the 
exigencies of the Senior Service in wartime. 

'* It shows Billy is of some importance/' he 
decided proudly. *' They wouldn't trouble to 
recall him if he were otherwise. Hang it all ! 
if he doesn't turn up within the next half-hour 
he'll miss the 4.45 from Tarleigh, and that will 
put him in the cart as far as the Scotch express 
is concerned. I'll go and meet him and hurry 
him along." 

Peter Barcroft was not usually given to 
changing his mind in this erratic fashion, but 
perhaps present circumstances were sufficient 
excuse. He had not seen his son for some 
twelve months previous to Billy's belated 
arrival at Ladybird Fold fourteen hours ago. 
Of that fourteen hours six had been employed 
by making up arrears of sleep, and another five 
by Peter's own act of sending his son into Bar- 
borough. Of the remaining time father and 
son had spent hardly an hour alone — and there 
were such a lot of things that Peter wanted to 
tell his boy. Then, as a coping-stone to the 
series of disappointments, Billy had not seen 
his mother, as Mrs. Barcroft was not expected 
home until the evening. 

While Peter was walking along the high road, 
Billy on his homeward journey took the path 



RECALLED BY WIRE 167 

across the fields, and on the former's return 
was sitting comfortably in front of the fire. 

*' Hullo ! how did I miss you ? '' was Peter's 
greeting. He was considerably puzzled as to 
how Billy had contrived to reach home with 
the donkey without passing him on the road. 
** Tve a telegram for you/' 

'* About Fuller ? " asked the flight-sub eag- 
erly. 

*' No," replied Mr. Barcroft. '' Why should 
he want to wire ? It's your recall, my boy ; 
and it's too late for the train that catches the 
Scotch express. She's leaving Tarleigh station 
now." 

** Something in the wind, I'll swear," declared 
Billy, searching in vain for a time-table. " Ful- 
ler's missing. You've heard me mention him 
several times. Went after one of the returning 
Zeppelins and hasn't been seen since. Only 
the other day " 

*' What are you disarranging my desk for ? " 
interrupted his father. '' A time-table ? Here 
you are. Next train from Tarleigh is at 7.5. 
That will catch a connection at Barborough 
and land you at Edinburgh about 4 a.m. How 
much further to Rosyth ? " 

'* About an hour," repHed Billy. ''Might 
do it in time." 

*' No use worrying about it : that won't 
help matters," said his father philosophically. 



168 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

'* You'll be able to see your mother. She arrives 
by the same train you leave by. It will only be 
for a couple of minutes. Better luck next time.'* 

Tea over, Billy began his preparations for the 
journey north. With the assistance of Mrs. 
Carter his greatcoat was made sufficiently 
presentable until he could borrow a uniform 
from an obliging shipmate. 

At the station the flight-sub's meeting with 
his mother was, as Peter had predicted, only 
of a brief duration, delayed until the guard's im- 
patient exhortation of " Take your seat, sir, if 
you're going," brought it to a close. 

'* Good-bye, my boy ! " said Barer oft Senior 
as his son lowered the window of the now closed 
door. 

''I say, pater!" exclaimed Billy, suddenly 
remembering something in his pocket. *' Here, 
take this. It will interest you. Forgot all 
about it before this." 

Peter took the proffered paper — a copy of 
the document found on the body of the dead 
German airman, setting a price upon Barcroft 
Senior's head. 

The train was on the move. Billy, with his 
head and shoulders still protruding through 
the window, waved farewells to his parents, 
then 

'' Dash it all ! " he shouted. '' Butterfly— the 
donkey — ^ran away. Clean forgot to mention it." 



RECALLED BY WIRE 169 

But Peter merely shook his head. The rumble 
of the train made the words quite inaudible. 

It was nearly seven in the morning when 
Flight-sub-lieutenant Barcroft arrived at 
Rosyth, after a long and tedious journey. 
Mists were hanging over the waters of the 
Firth of Forth. Even the lofty structure of 
the Forth Bridge was hidden by the grey bank 
of vapour. Service craft of all sizes and des- 
criptions were feeling their way up and down 
the broad estuary, making the welkin ring 
with the discordant braying on their syrens 
and foghorns. 

'* Have you seen anything of the ' Hippo- 
drome's ' boat ? '' inquired Billy of a petty 
officer on duty on the jetty." 

*' ' Hippodrome's ' boat, sir ? '' repeated the 
man. '' Why, the ' Hippodrome ' got under way 
a couple of hours ago, along with the Seventh 
Destroyer Division. The Ninth's just off, sir.'' 

Barcroft rapidly reviewed the situation. Ex- 
perience had taught him that there are often 
two ways of doing things in the Service — the 
official and the non-official. To be strictly in 
accord with the precedent he should have 
reported himself to the Admiral, giving his 
reasons why he missed his ship and getting a 
smart ''rap over the knuckles." On the otha: 
hand he might be able to enlist the sympathies 
of one of the officers of the Ninth Destroyer 



170 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

Division and get a passage — provided the 
boats were proceeding to the same rendezvous. 
He resolved to put the latter proposition into 
effect ; failing that, he would have to fall back 
upon the official routine. 

His luck was in. As he hurried across the 
caisson on his way to the jetty where the des- 
troyers were berthed he overtook a lieutenant- 
commander, whom he recognised as Terence 
Aubyn, a particular friend of FUght-lieutenant 
Fuller. 

'* By all means," repUed Aubyn when Bar- 
croft had explained the circumstances and 
requested a passage. '' We're pretty certain 
to fall in with the ' Hippodrome,' although I 
have as yet no idea of the position of the ren- 
dezvous. In fact, I have a couple of her men 
on board now. They got adrift in a copper- 
punt last night, and were only picked up after 
the ship had left." 

*' No further news of Fuller, I'm afraid ? " 
remarked Barer oft. 

'' Not a whisper," replied the lieutenant- 
commander as he ran briskly up the steeply- 
sloping " brow " to the quarter-deck of the 
destroyer *' Audax." 

And thus Flight-sub-lieutenant Barcroft found 
himself on board one of the newest type of 
destroyers bound for an unknown rendezvous 
somewhere in the North Sea. 



CHAPTER XVI 

CAPTIVES IN A SUBMARINE 

On being hauled on board the German sub- 
marine Fuller and Kirkwood were sternly 
ordered to go below, their captors indicating a 
small hatchway fifteen feet forward of the con- 
ning-tower. 

The prisoners had no option. They de- 
scended the almost vertical steel ladder and 
found themselves in practically the bow com- 
partment of the vessel. It was the crew space of 
the submarine mine-layer, for the craft, on which 
was painted the number UC49, was not fitted 
with torpedo tubes, nor did she carry guns of 
the '* disappearing mountings '' type. Her part 
was to sneak out of the Elbe, cruise on the 
surface whenever practicable, diving only when 
any strange vessel hove in sight. Her cargo 
had consisted of forty metal cylinders stowed 
aft — mines of the most recent type — but having 
sown her harvest of death and destruction, 
regardless whether an enemy or a neutral 
vessel fell a victim to the deadly peril, she 
was on her way back to the Fatherland. 

171 



172 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

The compartment in which Fuller and his 
companion found themselves was about thirty 
feet in length and fifteen at its maximum 
diameter, which was at the after end. Forward 
it tapered, at first gradually, then sharply, 
until it terminated at a bulkhead close to the 
bows. In the lower part of the recess were 
the anchors and cables, capable of being lowered 
or hauled by means of elaborate mechanism 
which was controlled from within. The upper 
portion of the bow compartment consisted of 
a large fresh- water tank. Round the crew 
space were lockers that served a double pur- 
pose : besides containing the effects of the men 
they were used as seats. Hooks were bolted 
to the cambered deck-beams in order to sling 
hammocks — in fact, half a dozen hammocks 
were at that time occupied — and mess-tables. 

Against the after bulkhead was a small 
partitioned-off place that served as the cook's 
galley, the stove being heated by electricity. 
While running awash the fumes were carried 
off by means of a funnel that projected a 
few inches above the deck, which was fitted 
with a watertight cover that could be operated 
from the conning-tower when the submarine 
was trimmed for diving. Yet in spite of the 
ventilation the place reeked vilely of a variety 
of odours. Fuller wondered what the atmos- 
phere must be like when UC49 was submerged. 



CAPTIVES IN A SUBMARINE 173 

In addition to the sleeping occupants of the 
hammocks, who by their restlessness even in 
slumber showed signs of the mental strain, 
the crew space was occupied by three fair- 
haired, fresh-featured Frisians, who regarded 
the captives with scant curiosity and, after the 
first five minutes, seemed to ignore the English- 
men entirely. 

'' May as well make the best of things," 
remarked Fuller. '' I know the ropes a bit — 
been through it before. Take your wet clothes 
off, old man. Keep a tight hold of your 
personal gear. We'll see if we can't persuade 
that fat chap in the galley to put our things 
to dry.'' 

'' They would dry on us in this hot show," 
observed Kirkwood. '' Suppose we are sent 
for ? " 

'' Then we are," added the flight-Heutenant 
grimly. '' We'll have to grin and bear it. All 
the same, I'm not going to act as a human 
clothes horse while my gear is drying, so here 
goes." 

The German cook seemed anxious to oblige, 
in spite of a muttered protest from one 
of the crew. 

'' My broder on der ' Blucher ' vos," he 
explained. '' Englische him pick up and well 
treat. Him write an' tell me so. Thus I 
your clothes make dry." 



174 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

Although the hatchway was closed and 
secured the submarine was still running awash, 
Ufting sluggishly as she forged ahead at a 
modest fifteen knots. A couple of hours passed, 
ard no attempt was made on the part of the 
vessel's officers to interrogate their prisoners. 

*' For one thing we are clothed and, let us 
hope, in our right minds," observed Fuller as 
the pair redressed in their now dry clothing, 
dispensing, however, with their leather jackets, 
which were as stiff as a board and white with 
sea-saJt. 

'* Much more of this would drive me out of 
my mind," protested Kirkwood. '' Give me 
the freedom of the air any day. Suppose this 
old hooker bumps into a mine ? " 

'' Pull yourself together, man," said the 
flight-heutenant sharply. ''It's all one big 
risk, I admit, but for heaven's sake don't give 
these fellows a chance to think we've cold feet ! " 

The A.P. stiffened his upper lip. 

" By Jove, I won't ! " he exclaimed. 

'' The youngster has good cause for concern,'' 
soliloquised Fuller. '' This old tub wouldn't 
stand a cat's chance if anything went wrong. 
She's one of those craft that's made by the 
fathom and cut off where required, I should 
imagine. Never saw such rough work in all 
my life And no sign of air-locks or any Ufe- 
saving devices. I suppose such details don't 



CAPTIVES IN A SUBMARINE 175 

worry the German Admiralty. Those leaking 
joints remind me of the old Tower Hill subway. 
A coat of whitewash and gas jets instead of 
the electric light would make the illusion 
complete." 

His reveries were interrupted by a sliding 
door in the after bulkhead being opened. The 
German seamen sprang to their feet and stood 
rigidly at attention as a young, heavily-built 
unter-leutnant appeared and beckoned the pris- 
oners to follow him. 

Stepping over the sill of the watertight door 
Fuller and his companion found themselves in 
the officers' quarters — a compartment extending 
the whole width of the vessel, and separated 
from the engine-room by another bulkhead. 
The cabin was plainly furnished but with a 
certain degree of comfort. On either side were 
two curtained bunks. A swinging table occu- 
pied the centre of the floor, with four revolving 
arm-chairs, the feet of which were clamped to 
prevent them being capsized in heavy weather. 
Against the after bulkhead were two book- 
shelves and a folding wash-basin, while between 
them was a ladder communicating with the 
conning-tower. On the for'ard bulkhead were 
voice-tubes and telephones for conveying orders 
to various parts of the vessel, also gauges of 
various descriptions similar to those in the 
conning-tower, so that the commander, when 



176 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

not on duty, could know what was going on 
without having to hail the navigating oflBicer. 
In the arched ceiling was an illuminated tell- 
tale compass. 

'* North 88 east/' said Fuller to himself, as 
he read the magnetic bearing. '' She's making 
for the Elbe or the Weser, I'll swear." 

*' There is no need for you to trouble about 
the course," said a broad-shouldered officer 
dressed in the uniform of a kapitan-leutnant 
of the Imperial German Navy. '' That is our 
affair. Now, tell me — ^no Ues, mind — ^what is 
your name ? " 

Fuller met the penetrating eye of his examiner 
without flinching, yet he realised he was '' up 
against " a sharp Teuton, who, by his command 
of the English language, had evidently an 
intimate and first-hand knowledge of his enemy's 
country. 

It was, Fuller knew, futile to dissemble. The 
fact that Kirkwood and he were missing would 
be revealed by the British Admiralty casualty 
list. Neither would any good purpose be 
attained by refusing to reply to any questions 
that could be answered without giving useful 
information to the Huns. 

'' John FuUer, fiight-Heutenant, H.M.S.^ Hip- 
podrome,' " he replied promptly. 

*' So ? Then let me offer my congratulations 
at you again becoming the guest of the Imperial 



CAPTIVES IN A SUBMARINE 177 

German Government," rejoined the kapitan- 
leutnant sarcastically. ''I do not think you 
will escape again, Mr. Fuller. Since Sylt was 
too easy a place of captivity you will most 
certainly be sent inland when we arrive in 
harbour — somewhere a very long way from 
the convenient neutral port of Esbjerg. Now, 
I suppose it is of no use asking you under what 
circumstances you were brought down ? " 

" Engine failure owing to the petrol tank 
being perforated.'' 

" Ach ! How far from the coast ? And what 
part of the coast ? Did you ascend from a 
ship or from a harbour ? '' 

Fuller shook his head. 

'' I cannot say,'' he replied. 

The German took the refusal quite in good 
part. 

*' I do not blame you for refusing," he re- 
marked. ** Any brave man, be he German or 
English, would do the same. Now, sir, am I to 
have any better luck with you ? Your name ? " 

The A. P. told him his name and rank, but 
resolutely declined to commit himself on other 
points. His captor merely grunted with the 
air of a man who has been given information 
of little or no interest. Kirkwood had not 
broken out of a German prison. Compared 
with the redoubtable Fuller he was a nonentity 
in the eyes of the kapitan-leutnant. 
12 



178 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

A gong clanged noisily in the conning-tower, 
its verberations outvoicing the pulsations of 
the oil-fed motors. Without a word the sub- 
marine's commander sprang to the ladder and, 
ascending, left Fuller and his companion in 
misfortune standing at the foot of the table. 

A hoarse order, followed by the heavy patter- 
ing of sea-boots upon the deck and the metallic 
clash of water-tight hatches being closed, de- 
noted that UC49 was being trimmed for 
diving. 

Fuller felt a hand tap him on the shoulder. 

'' Get you outside ! " ordered the young 
unter-leutnant, indicating the for'ard compart- 
ment. 

Barely had the prisoners regained their 
place of confinement than the bulkhead door 
was shut, a slight yet distinctly perceptible 
list announcing that the submarine was diving. 

The fore-peak was now uncomfortably crowd- 
ed, for the '' watch on deck,'' unable to remain 
any longer on deck, had come below at the 
order to trim ship for diving. One and all 
looked drawn and anxious. Unlike their breth- 
ren in the non-mine-laying submarines they 
had practically nothing to do. The excitement 
of being able to launch a torpedo at a British 
ship, be she naval vessel or merchantman, 
was denied them. They were, in fact, nothing 
more than passive individuals cooped up in 



CAPTIVES IN A SUBMARINE 179 

the shell of a submerged craft, unable to see 
what was going on without, and helpless to 
save themselves in the event of the submarine 
being rammed. 

For quite a minute the obliquely downward 
plunge was maintained, the vessel the while 
turning sharply to starboard. Then, pitching 
slightly to the violent displacement of a volume 
of water, she resumed her normal trim at a 
depth oi ten fathoms beneath the surface. 

The action of porting helm had undoubtedly 
saved the mine-laying submarine. An alert 
British patrol boat had sighted her from afar, 
and at a rate resembling that of a train had 
charged down upon the spot where UC49 had 
disappeared, while trailing astern at the end 
of an insulated cable was an explosive grapnel 
of sufficient power to shatter the submarine's 
hull like an egg-shell. 

The skipper of the patrol boat had made 
due calculations to ensure, as he thought, the 
destruction of his prey, but he had not reckoned 
upon the UC49 changing course as she dived. 
As it was, the explosive grapnel passed within 
a couple of yards of the submerged vessel's 
beam. 

Of this Fuller and his companion knew 
nothing. Perhaps, for their state of mind, 
it was as well. A man will bravely face 
death at the hands of his foe, but he will jib 



180 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

at the idea of being '* snuffed out *' by his 
own side. 

Slowly the minutes passed. UC49 was still 
running submerged, increasing the depth to 
twenty fathoms and maintaining a zig-zag 
course in order to baffle her pursuer. The 
German seamen were beginning to breathe 
more freely. The worst part of the business — 
the great risk of being rammed as she dived — • 
was over, and although under the enormous 
pressure jets of water were hissing through 
the faulty joints the men realised that they 
stood more than a fighting chance of evading 
destruction. 

For perhaps five hoiurs UC49 blindly made 
her way under the waves. The captives had 
lost all count of time. Their watches had 
stopped owing to their immersion when the 
seaplane was sunk ; there was no clock in the 
fore compartment nor were the bells struck in 
the customary style on board. But at length, 
after a seemingly interminable interval, the 
order was given to empty the auxiliary water 
ballast tanks. Simultaneously the floor as- 
sumed a list — this time in a contrary direction. 

Then, without warning, the fairly regular 
throb of the electric motors gave place to a 
discordant jar that shook the hull from end to 
end. 

'' Main shaft gone, for a dead cert," exclaimed 



CAPTIVES IN A SUBMARINE 181 

Kirkwood. '' I remember the same thing oc- 
currmg on the ' Tremendous's ' picket-boat 
Yes, they*re switching off/' 

The mine-layer was helpless. Without means 
of propulsion there were only two courses open 
to her — to float or sink to the bottom. It 
was impossible to keep submerged to a certain 
depth simply by means of admitting a certain 
quantity of water ballast. Once the reserve 
of buoyancy was overcome she would sink to 
the bed of the North Sea, in all probability 
collapsing under the terrific pressure on her 
hull long before she arrived there. It is only 
by means of the diving rudders acting in con- 
junction with her diving trim that a submarine 
can remain submerged to a required depth ; 
and since the kapitan-leutnant of UC49 ^^^ 
no desire to make the acquaintance of the floor 
of the ocean other than by means of an '' armed " 
lead-line, he chose the other alternative and 
rose to the surface. 

The moment the fore hatch was removed 
the watch rushed on deck. There was a lot 
of scuffling and shouting of orders, accompanied 
by the clanking of the auxihary motors actuat- 
ing the bilge pumps. When the main shaft 
fractured — the submarine had only one 
** screw'* — the propeller had flown off, taking 
with it the broken tail shaft and straining the 
stuffing-box to such an extent that water poured 



182 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

through the glands. The pumps were just able 
to cope with the inrush. Should they choke 
or otherwise get out of order the vessel would 
promptly founder. 

Another order was given. Those of the crew 
who still remained below hm'riedly collected 
their personal belongings and went on deck, 
while their place was taken by their companions 
who, following their example, set to work to 
** pack up *' their scanty bundles. In five 
minutes the crew space was untenanted save 
by Fuller and Kirk wood. 

'* It strikes me very forcibly that we had 
better be clearing out of this rat-hole/' sug- 
gested the former. ** If we don't we'll be over- 
looked, and I don't suppose the Hims will 
mind that." 

The two chums ascended the ladder and 
gained the platform in front of the conning- 
tower. Here were about a dozen of the crew, 
a similar number being stationed aft. The 
officers were grouped amidships, their atten- 
tion fixed upon some distant object which 
they were examining through their glasses. 
The chug-chug of the pumps continued, showing 
that some of the engine-room staff were still 
standing by the auxiUary machinery. 

** Hurrah ! " exclaimed Kirkwood. *' A 
couple of our destroyers. No German prison 
for us this trip." 



CAPTIVES IN A SUBMARINE 183 

Several of the German seamen hearing the 
exclamation regarded the A. P. angrily ; other- 
wise they offered no objection to the prisoners 
being on deck. The kapitan-leutnant, also 
overhearing Bobby's expression of satisfac- 
tion, lowered his binoculars and glared at the 
irrepressible Briton. Then he raised the glasses 
again and scanned the horizon, finishing up 
his scrutiny by keeping the on-coming craft 
under observation. 

For half a minute he looked steadfastly at 
the approaching destroyers, then he gave an 
order to a man standing by the diminutive 
mast. 

Promptly the sailor hoisted the Black Cross 
Ensign, but whether as a token of defiance or 
otherwise the British ofiicers were unable to 
decide. But they were not long left in ignor- 
ance. 

*' You are a little too hasty in your surmise, 
Mr. Englishman," sneered the kapitan-leutnant. 
*' You will yet sample the joys of a German 
prison. These are two of our torpedo-boats.'* 



CHAPTER XVII 

THE MIDDLE WATCH 

A DULL, reverberating crash roused Flight- 
sub-lieutenant Barcroft from his temporary 
bunk on board H.M. torpedo-boat destroyer 
'' Audax/' 

'' Eight bells/' midnight, had just gone — 
silently, for the destroyer was ploughing through 
the waves at break-neck speed, without navi- 
gation lights and as steadily as possible. So 
well were her oil-fed furnaces tended that no 
tell-tale sparks escaped from her four squat 
funnels. In spite of the heavy seas she was 
cleared for action ; life-lines took the place 
of the stanchion rails and afforded the only 
means of preventing the bluejackets being 
swept overboard by the green seas that poured 
completely over the raised fo'c'sle. Around 
the four-inch guns men hung on, ready at the 
first alarm to open fire, while the deadly tor- 
pedoes had been launched into their tubes to 
be let loose at the word of command upon the 
first unit of the German Navy — be she large 

^84 



THE MIDDLE WATCH 185 

or small — that had the temerity to try conclu- 
sions with the alert British destroyer. 

There had been signs of activity in Hun 
naval circles — activity forced upon them by 
prompt and vigorous measures of the sea-dogs 
under the White Ensign. Zeebrugge was get- 
ting too hot to hold the German torpedo-boat 
flotillas that for months had existed under 
nerve-racking conditions in that Belgian port. 
Constant bombardments from the sea and 
from the air had made the Huns' new base 
so insecure that the German ocean-going tor- 
pedo-boats (craft that compare in point of size 
with destroyers, ahhough the term destroyer 
does not figure in Hun naval reports) had been 
compelled to make a dash for the neutral 
defences of the Elbe, Weser and Jade. Exist- 
ing conditions made it undesirable to sneak 
through Dutch territorial waters, and the only 
other way was by a circuitous course rendered 
necessary by the presence of a vast British 
minefield. 

The British Admiralty, out of consideration 
for neutral shipping, had advertised the limits 
of the danger zone, which was an aggressive 
minefield rather than a defensive one — in other 
words its base was situated close to the German 
coast, while its apex stretched westward far 
across the North Sea. Round this apex the 
German torpedo craft had to make their way. 



186 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

Knowledge of the attempted dash had 
reached the ears of the British Commander-in- 
Chief, and strong flotillas of destroyers were 
patrolling the length and breadth of the North 
Sea, their search assisted in broad daylight by 
seaplanes sent up from attendant parent ships. 
At night the difficulty of maintaining the cordon 
was enormously increased. A German boat 
might slip through in the darkness, while, even 
if discovered, her attackers would be under the 
disadvantage of making sure that she was not 
one of their consorts before opening fire. 

The " Audax " was operating in the high lati- 
tudes of the North Sea. In fact, if she held on 
the course for another five hours she would 
run ashore somewhere in the close proximity 
of The Naze of Norway. 

Two miles ahead and astern of her were 
other vessels of the same class, the line being 
continued until the chain of destroyers stretched 
across the North Sea from Scotland almost to 
Scandinavia. The Straits of Dover were simi- 
larly patrolled, while auxiliary destroyers swept 
the seas between the northern and southern 
limits, ready to head oft the fugitives or bring 
them to action. 

Rolling fully dressed out of his bunk — for 
under these conditions it would be folly to turn 
in otherwise — Billy dashed on deck, followed 
by the Engineer-lieutenant, who happened to 



THE MIDDLE WATCH 187 

be the only officer in the ward-room not on 
watch. 

Wriggling through the partly-closed hatch- 
way, dubbed by courtesy the '* companion/' 
and receiving a greeting in the form of a cold 
douche — the tail end of a particularly vicious 
comber — Barcroft stood still until his eyes grew 
accustomed to the darkness. Then, grasping 
the life-line, he made his way forward, often 
knee-deep in water, until he gained the doubtful 
shelter afforded by the rise of the fo'c*sle. 
Here, clustered round the two guns abreast 
the forward funnel, were a dozen men in *' 1am- 
my *' suits, oilskins and sou' -westers, all peering 
through the darkness in the direction in which 
the ** Audax " was now proceeding. 

'' What was the explosion, Mr. Black ? '* 
inquired Barcroft of the gunner. 

'' We don't know, sir," replied the warrant 
officer. '* A mighty big flash and a brute of 
a report. We've wirelessed the commodore 
to ask permission to investigate, and now 
we're off to see, judging by the alteration of 
course." 

The young officer thanked him for the in- 
formation, vague though it might be, and 
ascending the bridge ladder took up his stand 
in front of the after guard-rail of the bridge. 

Lieutenant-commander Aubyn and three of 
his officers were standing with their backs 



188 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

turned to him, oblivious of his presence. Actu- 
ally Barcroft had no right there, save on suffer- 
ance and by the courtesy of the skipper. The 
executive officers were crouching behind the 
storm-dodgers — the force of the wind and the 
sting of the icy spray made it impossible to 
withstand the full force of the elements unless 
protected by these canvas screens — and were 
directing their attention mainly on some as 
yet invisible object dead ahead. At intervals 
one or other of the officers would scan the 
seas abeam, as if expecting to see a dark and 
swiftly-moving vessel — to wit, an enemy craft 
■ — pelt through the blackness of the night on 
her dash for safety. 

The skipper remained as rigid as a statue, 
the personification of silent alertness ; but the 
Ueutenant and sub of the '' Audax '' were 
conversing, raising their voices in order to 
make themselves understood above the roar 
of the wind and the crashing of the waves as 
they flew over the fore-deck of the destroyer 
and hurtled against the bridge. Scraps of the 
discussion wafted to Barcroft's ears. 

A neutral, I think," remarked the sub. 

Swede or Norwegian. . . . Bumped on a 
mine.'* 

'* Torpedo,'* declared the lieutenant. *' I dis- 
tinctly saw one flash . . . before the big blaze 
i . . second explosion ; yet, it points to it.'' 






THE MIDDLE WATCH 189 

Billy caught enough of the conversation to 
read the lieutenant's theory. Evidently he 
beUeved that the victim was one of the British 
armed liners patrolling this section of the 
North Sea. Torpedoed, in the darkness and 
in spite of the heavy seas, she had been blown 
up by the detonation of her magazine. 

Suddenly Aubyn straightened himself and 
sprang to the telegraph indicator communicating 
with the engine-room. 

Following the double clang of the bell the 
destroyer's engines were promptly stopped and 
quickly reversed. The skipper's keen eye had 
discerned a raft crowded with men as the 
'* Audax " swept past at a distance of less than 
twenty yards. 

Aubyn gave a brief glance at the raging seas 
and held up his hand. The gesture was under- 
stood by the men already standing in expectancy 
at the falls. It meant '' Stand fast." No boat 
could live in such a turmoil of angry waves, 
yet there were heroes ready and willing to risk 
their lives in a vain attempt at rescue. 

The '' Audax " was about to make an effort 
by other means, but first the raft had to be 
found again, for before way had been taken off 
the destroyer the handful of survivors of the 
ill-fated ship were lost in the darkness and in 
the wash of water astern. 

Nor could the searchUghts be switched on 



190 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

without grave risk to the all-important task 
of rounding-up the German torpedo-boats. 
The '' Audax '' had to grope round like a blind 
man in the hope of falling in with the drifting 
raft. 

*' Shout in' dead to wind'ard, sir, right on 
the starboard beam," shouted half a dozen 
voices. ** There they are, sir, a cable's length 
off." 

In a patch of phosphorescent foam, as it 
lifted dizzily on the crest of a broken wave, 
could be discerned the object of the search. 
The next instant it had vanished in the trough 
of the seas. 

*' Hard a-port ! " roared the skipper. 

'* Hard a-port, sir," repeated the quarter- 
master. 

Turning, the '* Audax " slowed down, coming 
to a standstill, save for the motion created by 
the scend of the seas and the leeward drift 
caused by the strong wind, at a few yards to 
windward of the raft, which on nearer acquaint- 
ance proved to be a number of deck planks 
still adhering to the fractured beams. 

Under the lee of the destroyer the raft floated 
in comparatively smooth water, and the work 
of transferring the handful of well-nigh ex- 
hausted men commenced. Five or six were 
hauled on board by means of bowlines ; three 
were incapable of stirring a hand to help them- 



THE MIDDLE WATCH 191 

selves, and since their comrades made no effort 
to assist in their rescue several of the destroyer's 
hands went overboard and, grasping the uncon- 
scious men, were heaved back with no greater 
damage than bruised knuckles and grazed 
shins. 

'' Wot are we to do with these 'ere blokes, 
sir ? " inquired a seaman of the destroyer's 
lieutenant, who had temporarily quitted the 
bridge to superintend the work of rescue. 
" Our mess deck's flooded out." 

'' They want warmth. Pass the word to 
the engineer commander to ask if he has room 
for nine men in the stokehold." 

*' Me from Danmark sheep," volubly asserted 
one man as he was being led below. 

'' All right, my man," replied the lieutenant. 
" We'll hear your story later. Hullo, Barer oft, 
you on deck ? Make yourself useful, old boy, 
and find out what happened to these fellows. 
I must be hopping back to my perch. Thank 
your lucky stars it isn't your watch." 

Refraining from remarking that he had 
already had a voluntary trick on the spray- 
swept bridge Billy followed the survivors of 
the lost vessel into the hot, steam-laden atmo- 
sphere of the stokehold. The foreigners who 
were in possession of their faculties had 
** stripped to the buff " and were being rubbed 
down by sympathising British stokers, while 



192 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

their clothes were being dried in front of the 
furnaces. 

The rescued men seemed extraordinarily 
anxious to assert that they belonged to a 
Danish vessel, almost overwhelming Barcroft 
in their eagerness to emphasise the point. 
None of them spoke English, and as the fiight- 
sub knew hardly a word of Danish his attempt 
to gain information seemed hopeless. He tried 
speaking in German, with no better results, 
except for a reiterated chorus of ''Me from 
Danmark.'* 

*' It's strange that they don't jabber to each 
other in their own lingo, sir," remarked a 
leading stoker, who was kneehng over one of 
the vmconscious seamen and methodically press- 
ing his ribs according to the precepts laid down 
in the Manual of Seamanship for the treatment 
of persons apparently drowned. 

The patient was a powerfully built, huge- 
limbed young giant, by appearance of far 
better physique than the others, yet he seemed 
to be the worst off from the effects of exposure. 
External examination revealed no signs of an 
injury, although two of the other men had 
been badly battered by flying debris from the 
explosion. 

Just then the man stirred, gasped, and 
endeavoured to free himself from the atten- 
tions of the humane leading stoker. 



THE MIDDLE WATCH L98 

"Then I am still alive?'' he asked feebly. 
" A prisoner on an English ship. Well, I am 
not sorry. I am tired of the war.*' 

'* Wot's 'e a-sayin', sir ? '' inquired the 
leading stoker. 

'' Quite enough to give the show away," 
repUed Barcroft, fixing with his eyes the other 
foreigners, who were now showing every 
symptom of consternation, for the man had 
spoken in German and his comrades had 
understood every word. 

" So you are from a German ship ? '* 
demanded the young officer, addressing the 
group of survivors. 

The men freely admitted that the game was 
up, and finding that their good treatment was 
not modified they became quite communicative. 

They were, they announced, some of the 
crew of the armed commerce-raider '' Volks- 
dorf,'* a converted liner that had left the port 
of Swinemunde two days previously. Hugging 
the Norwegian coast she had sighted two 
British patrol ships, and turning southward 
had shaken off pursuit in hazy weather. Ap- 
parently the '' Volksdorf's " attempt was timed 
to take place simultaneously with the German 
activity in the North Sea, and by keeping 
slightly to the northward of the screen of 
British destroyers she stood a fair chance of 
gaining the Atlantic. Unfortunately for her 
18 V 



194 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

she came within easy torpedo range of a U-boat, 
and the pirate, not knowing that she was of 
the same nationaUty and utterly indifferent 
as to whether she destroyed enemy or neutral 
ships without warning, promptly discharged 
a torpedo. The missile struck home, causing 
a second explosion, as the after magazine of 
the raider blew up, causing the ship to sink in 
less than thirty seconds. 

Billy went on deck to find the '' Audax *' 
still cruising about in the hope of finding more 
survivors, but without success. Making his 
way to the bridge he informed Aubyn of his 
discovery. 

'' That's great," declared the youthful skipper. 
" Fritz committing frightfulness upon his own 
pals requires some beating. It must have 
been a strafed U-boat, since I know for a dead 
cert that none of our submarines are taking 
part in the present operations. Keeping Middle 
Watch, Mr. Barcroft ? I'd turn in while I 
had the chance, if I were you. We're in touch 
with the ' Hippodrome.' Picked up a wireless 
call not five minutes ago. We'll put you on 
board before many hours, I dare say, but we 
don't want to hand you over looking like a 
sleepy owl ; so down below you go." 

*' Thanks, sir, I will," replied the flight-sub, 
who after the heated atmosphere of the stoke- 
hold was feeling the cold acutely. 



THE MIDDLE WATCH 195 

And carrying out the genial lieutenant- 
commander's advice Billy went below, pulled 
off his sea-boots, divested himself of his oil- 
skins, or, rather, those of the engineer-sub 
who had insisted on lending them, and flopped 
into his bunk. He was dimly conscious of 
thrusting his back hard against the partition, 
gripping the edge of the bunk with both hands 
and drawing up his knees to wedge himself in 
— matters of precaution owing to the erratic 
motion of the destroyer — and in ten seconds 
he was in a sound, dreamless slumber. 



CHAPTER XVIII 

AN OCEAN DUEL 

"Action Stations ! *' 

Billy Barcroft leapt from his bunk, labouring 
under the delusion that he had turned in only 
a few minutes before. 

The deadlights screwed to the brass rims of 
the scuttles and the electric lights in the ward- 
room gave him the impression that it was still 
night, and it was not until he scrambled on 
deck that he was aware that grey dawn was 
breaking. 

The wind had piped down considerably. 
The seas, still running high, no longer showed 
their teeth in the form of vicious, foam-crested 
breakers. Yet the decks of the '* Audax '* 
were at regular intervals ankle-deep in water, 
as the destroyer cut through the billows. 

A cloud of steam, caused by showers of 
spray striking the hot, salt-encrusted funnel 
casings, drifted aft, temporarily obscuring the 
flight-sub's range of vision. As it cleared he 
could discern the greatcoated figures of Aubyn 
and his brother-officers on the bridge, and the 

190 



AN OCEAN DUEL 197 

indistinct forms of the men as they passed 
ammmiition from the shell-hoists to the guns. 

'* Got her this time, sir/' remarked a burly 
petty officer, the rotundity of whose figure was 
still further accentuated by the prodigious 
quantity of clothing he wore. 

He pointed to a dark grey, indistinct object 
almost dead ahead, her outlines rendered almost 
invisible by the trailing clouds of smoke that 
poured from her funnels. Barer oft estimated 
her distance at two thousand yards. It was 
impossible to see whether she flew her ensign. 

The vessel was a German ocean-going torpedo- 
boat, one of the nine which had stolen out of 
Zeebrugge. By sheer good luck she had gone 
northward over practically the extreme length 
of the North Sea without being sighted by 
the British patrols. An hour, or even half an 
hour earlier she might have slipped unobserved 
past the *' Audax *' without being seen by 
the latter. As it was, one of the British des- 
troyer's look-out men " spotted '' the strange 
craft in the deceptive half-light of the late 
autumnal dawn. 

The ** Audax " threw out her private signal 
by means of a flash lamp from the bridge. 
The stranger replied by an unintelligible jumble 
of long and short flashes. 

*' Either that is a Hun or her signalman is 
three sheets in the wind," declared Lieutenant- 



198 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

commander Aubyn. '* Tell her to make her 
number, or we*ll open fire. And wireless the 
* Antipas ' ; give her our position, and say we 
are in touch with a suspicious craft." 

Aubyn, though brave as a Hon, was of a 
discreet and cautious nature. Dearly would 
he have liked to engage in an ocean duel with 
the hostile craft, for such, he now felt con- 
vinced she would prove to be. Both vessels 
were equally matched in the matter of 
armament, tonnage and number of comple- 
ment : it was necessary only to again prove 
the moral and physical superiority of Jack 
Tar over Hans and Fritz, unless something in 
the nature of sheer ill-luck allowed the coveted 
prize to slip through his fingers. It was against 
the possibility that Aubyn had to guard. The 
fight had to end in only one way — annihilation 
to the foe. Hence the call to the destroyer 
" Antipas " to eliminate that element of chance. 

'* Let her have it ! '* shouted the skipper of 
the '' Audax,*' just as Barcroft gained the 
bridge. 

The four-inch gun on the fo'c'sle barked. 
It was still dark enough for the flash to cast 
a lurid glow upon the set faces of the British 
officers, who stood by with their glasses ready 
to bear upon the flying torpedo-boat the 
moment the acrid fumes from the burnt cordite 
drifted clear of the bridge. 



AN OCEAN DUEL 199 

The first shell struck the water close to the 
German vessel's port side, throwing up a column 
of water fifty feet in the air as it ricochetted 
and finally disappeared beneath the waves a 
mile or so ahead of the target. 

Fritz replied promptly. He must have fired 
directly the flash of the '' Audax's'' bow gun 
was observed. The projectile screeched above 
the heads of the m.en on the bridge, seemingly 
so close that Barcroft involuntarily ducked. 
It was quite a different sensation from being 
potted at by '' Archibalds.'* Up aloft the roar of 
the seaplane's engines and the rush of the 
wind practically overwhelmed the crash of the 
bursting shrapnel. This weird moaning, as 
the four-inch shell flew by, was somewhat 
disconcerting as far as Billy was concerned, 
while to heighten the effect a rending crash 
accompanied the passing of the projectile. 

** Our wireless top-hamper, dash it all ! " 
exclaimed Aubyn, turning his head for a brief 
instant. '' Starboard a little, quartermaster.'* 

The slight alteration of helm enabled the 
midship quick-firer on the starboard side to 
bear upon the enemy. The latter, evidently 
with the idea of dazzling the British destroyer, 
had switched on a searchlight mounted on a 
raised platform aft. Probably the Huns might 
have derived advantage from the rays, that 
still held their own against the increasing 



200 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

dawn, had not a well-directed shell from the 
'* Audax '* fo'c'sle gun blown searchlight, plat- 
form, and half a dozen men to smithereens. 

For the next ten minutes the adversaries 
were at it hammer and tongs. More than 
one shell got home on board the British craft, 
playing havoc with the after-funnel and deck- 
fittings, while three badly wounded but still 
irrepressibly cheerful seamen were taken down 
below. 

The German craft was being severely 
punished. The speed had fallen oif consider- 
ably, while she was on fire fore and aft, although 
the for'ard conflagration was quickly got under 
by her crew. By this time she bore broad on 
the British destroyer's bow, the range having 
decreased to 1,500 yards. 

Suddenly the Hun put her helm hard down. 
Either she saw that flight was no longer possible, 
or else her stern quick-firers had been knocked 
out, and she wished to bring her as yet unused 
guns to bear upon her foe. 

As she turned Aubyn saw through his bino- 
culars a gleaming obj ect shoot over the German 
craft's side, quickly followed by another. Both 
disappeared in a smother of foam beneath the 
waves. "Hard a-port ! " he shouted, knowing 
full well that at that moment a couple of power- 
ful Schwarzkopft torpedoes, propelled by super- 
heated compressed air, were heading towards 



AN OCEAN DUEL 201 

the '' Audax " at a rate of forty to fifty mile? 
an hour. 

Round swung the destroyer, listing under 
excessive helm until the deck on the starboard 
side dipped beneath the water. As she did 
so the two torpedoes could be distinctly seen 
as, adjusted to their minimum depth to pre- 
vent them passing under the lightly draughted 
objective, they appeared betwixt the crests 
of the waves. 

One passed fifty yards away ; the other 
almost scraped the destroyer's quarter. Had 
the '* Audax " not promptly answered to her 
helm both torpedoes would have " got home.'* 
Yet, not in the least perturbed, the British 
seamen continued their grim task of battering 
the Hun out of recognition. They worked 
almost in silence. Each man knew his parti- 
cular job and did it. Time for shouting when 
the business was finished to their satisfaction. 

Yet there was a regular pandemonium of 
noise. The hiss of escaping steam ; the vicious 
thuds of the waves as the '' Audax,*' at twenty- 
eight point something knots, tore through the 
water under the action of engines of 14,000 
horse-power ; the rapid barking of the quick- 
firers ; the sharp clang of the breech-blocks 
and the clatter of the ejected shell-cases upon 
the slippery decks — all combined to bear testi- 
mony to the stress and strain of a destroyer 



202 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

action. The ** Audax " was the latest embodi- 
ment of naval science in that class of boat, yet 
without the intrepid energies of the men 
behind the guns, aided by the strenuous efforts 
of their mess-mates in the engine-room stoke- 
hold, that science would be of little avail in 
gaining the victory. Man-power still counts 
as much as it ever did, provided an efficient 
fighting machine is at their disposal. British 
Hearts of Oak are much the same as in 
Nelson's day — and yet the average pay of the 
Lower Deck ratings is about three shillings a day 
with no eight-hour shifts, risking life and limb 
for a wage at which a navvy would sneer. 

And why ? It is the call of the sea — a call 
that appeals to Britons more than to any 
other nation under the sun. In the piping 
times of peace the Navy offers unrivalled facilities 
for poor men to travel and see the world, it 
responds to their love of adventure. In war- 
time it calls for hard and often unappreciated 
work with the chance of a glorious scrap thrown 
in ; and right loyally the Navy answers to the 
call to maintain the freedom of the seas and 
to guard our shores against the King's enemies. 

By the time that the opposing vessels had 
steadied on their respective helms the '* Audax " 
was steaming obUquely on her foe's broadside, 
sufficiently to enable three of her four guns to 
bear. 



AN OCEAN DUEL 208 

The Hun's fire was now slackening, and in 
spite of the shortness of the range, decidedly 
erratic. Her hull was perforated in several 
places, her funnels were riddled to such an 
extent that it seemed remarkable that they 
had not already collapsed. Her masts had 
vanished, also a portion of her bridge, while 
her deck was littered with smoking debris. 

** Cease fire ! '' ordered Lieutenant-comman- 
der Aubyn as the German no longer replied 
to her severe punishment. What was more, 
her Black Cross ensign, which she had hoisted 
after the commencement of the engagement, 
was no longer visible. 

Aubyn's chivalrous instincts were ill-repaid, 
for a couple of shells screeched through the air 
from the vessel which he thought had surrend- 
ered. One went wide ; the other penetrated 
the ward-room of the '' Audax,'' fortunately 
without exploding. Simultaneously a German 
bluejacket held aloft the tattered Black Cross 
emblem of unholy kultur. 

In an instant the British tars reopened fire ; 
while to make matters worse for the Huns, 
the *' Antipas," racing up under forced draught, 
let fly a salvo from the three guns that could 
be brought to bear ahead. That settled the 
business. The hostile craft, literally battered 
out of recognition, began to founder. 

'* Cease fire ! " Aubyn ordered for the 



204 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

second time within two minutes. Then, " Out 
boats.'^ 

It was an easy matter to order the boats 
away, but a most difficult task to carry the 
instructions into effect. The gig had been 
completely pulverised, while the other boats 
were in a more or less unseaworthy condition. 

*' Look aUve, lads!" exclaimed a petty 
officer of the carpenters' crew. " T'other blokes 
'U be there first if we don't look out." 

Hastily the holes in the bottom strakes of 
that particular boat were plugged, and, quickly 
manned, the leaky craft pushed off, the men 
urged by her coxswain to '' pull like blazes an' 
get them chaps out o' the bloomin' ditch." 

By this time the German torpedo-boat had 
vanished beneath the waves, leaving a rapidly- 
dispersing cloud of smoke and steam to mark 
the spot where she had disappeared and the 
heads of about twenty swinmiers — the sur- 
vivors of her complement. 

In twos and threes the war-scarred and 
nerve-shattered Huns were hauled into safety, 
for other help from both destroyers was now 
upon the scene, and deeply laden the boats 
returned to their respective parents. 

Suddenly Barcroft, who was watching the 
arrival of the sorry-looking crowd of German 
prisoners, gave vent to an uncontrolled shout 
of joyous surprise, for huddled in the stern 



AN OCEAN DUEL 205 

sheets of the whaler were Flight-lieutenant 
John Fuller and his comrade in peril, Bobby 
Kirkwood. 

*' There's precious little of report," said 
Fuller in reply to the skipper of the *' Audax *' 
when the two rescued officers were snugly 
berthed in the ward-room — warm in spite of 
the additional ventilation in the shape of a 
couple of neatly-drilled holes marking the 
place of entry and the point of departure of 
the ill-advised German " dud '' shell. *' Me 
had to make a forced descent, got collared by 
a strafed U-boat just as we had effected re- 
pairs. The U-boat rattled herself to bits, so 
to speak, and had to be abandoned. IVe had 
quite enough submarining, thank you. Give 
me a seaplane any day of the week, Sunday 
included. Then that torpedo-boat — VigS's her 
designation — picked us up. They stowed us 
in the forehold and forgot to let us out when 
she went under. Suppose they had quite 
enough on their hands and clean forgot about 
us," he added generously, giving the kapitan- 
leutnant of the V198 the benefit of the doubt. 

*' Anyhow, theje we were," continued the 
flight-Ueutenant. '' We knew the rotten packet 
was going, and although we yelled the racket 
on board prevented them hearing us, I suppose. 
Still, our luck was in, for a shell burst in her 
fo'c'sle, ripping rp the deck and bursting the 



206 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

cable-tier bulkhead. It was pretty thick with 
the smoke, but we groped forward " 

'' You hauled me for'ard, you mean/' in- 
terrupted the A. P. 

** Shut up ! " said Fuller reprovingly. *' Well, 
by standing on the edge of the manger we 
managed to haul ourselves on to the mess-deck. 
There we stuck till the firing ceased, and the 
boat's stern was well under water. Then it 
was quite time for us to go, and we dived over- 
board. The rest you know.'' 

*' And what might you be doing on board, 
old bird ? " asked Kirkwood addressing the 
overjoyed Billy. 

'* Passenger for the * Hippodrome,' " replied 
the flight-sub. 

*' And it strikes me very forcibly," added 
Aubyn, ''that at this rate I'll find all the 
* Hippodrome's ' birds on board this hooker. The 
trouble now is : how can I deliver the goods ? 
We'll have to ask permission to quit station 
and return for repairs and overhaul. Another 
three weeks in dockyard hands, I suppose, and 
the fun only just beginning. Just my luck." 

The skipper went on deck. There was much 
to be done. Although the ''butcher's bill" 
was light, and the destroyer had sustained 
no serious damage to her hull — thanks to the 
defective German shells — the loss of the top- 
hamper was considerable. In her present state 



AN OCEAN DUEL 207 

she was unable to carry out her duties as an 
efficient patrol boat. With her wireless out 
of action she was impotent to perform the 
vital function of communicating with her in- 
visible consorts. For centuries the British 
Navy had done very well without the aid of 
wireless telegraphy, but, like many other things, 
Marconi's discovery had come to stay. Its 
use enabled fewer vessels to effectually do the 
work that hitherto required more to perform, 
owing to the necessity of keeping within visible 
signalling distance ; and a destroyer without 
wireless was a '' dead end/' in modern naval 
warfare. 

But Lieutenant-commander Aubyn was not 
a man who would willingly miss the opportunity 
of doing his friends a good turn, provided the 
exigencies of the Service permitted. 

Before parting company he signalled the 
'' Antipas," which was still standing by the 
injured destroyer, with the result that a boat 
put off from the latter and came alongside. 

'' Look alive, you fellows ! '* shouted Aubyn 
down the ward-room companion. '' If you 
want to get on board the ' Hippodrome ' 
within the next few hours now's your chance. 
Tressidar, of the ' Antipas,' will give you a 
passage. That's all right : stick to that gear 
till you find the old * Hippo.' I've had to 
borrow a kit myself before to-day.'' 



CHAPTER XIX 

HELD UP IN THE NORTH SEA 

"Behold us, Tress old boy ! " exclaimed Fuller, 
when in the privacy of Lieutenant-commander 
Ronald Tressidar's cabin the old chums could 
forget the slight differences in their respec- 
tive ranks. '' Three stormy petrels ; nobody 
loves us. Kind of social pariahs, don't you 
know. Even the Huns wouldn't have us on 
two of their packets, after little Seaplane 445B 
slung us out. And, worse, that blighter Aubyn 
washed his hands of us. Suppose you'll be 
slinging us out next, Tress ? *' 

" I shall be delighted," replied Tressidar. 
" The moment " 

*' Surly old cave-dweller ! " continued the 
flight-lieutenant. " That's what comes of being 
shipmates with a mouldy bird in a captive 
balloon. You will be delighted to — what were 
you saying ? " 

*' Delighted to feed, partly clothe and cer- 
tainly educate you, my festive, until we fall in 
with the ' Hippodrome.' This last condition 

208 



HELD UP IN THE NORTH SEA 209 

doesn't apply to your companions," proceeded 
Tressidar. '' But when or where we fall in 
with the ' Hippo ' is a matter for sheer con- 
jecture. I believe now this duck hunt is over 
(the rest of the Hun torpedo-craft bar two 
have been accounted for : I suppose you heard 
that ?) the three seaplane carriers are off south 
to tackle this Zeebrugge business again. How- 
ever, trust to luck and don't whine if it kicks 
you. Them's my sentiments, my dear old pal." 
It was the ''bar two" that kept the 
'' Antipas " and the rest of her consorts patrol- 
ling the wild North Sea, until news had been 
definitely received to the effect that the forlorn 
pair of Hun boats had done one of three things 
— had been sunk, captured or had contrived 
to slip through the cordon into a home or 
neutral port. 

For the next twenty-four hours nothing of 
incident occurred. The destroyer, maintaining 
her course within set limits as stolidly as a 
policeman on his beat, encountered little to 
attract the attention of her look-out. Every 
two hours she was in touch with her *' next on 
station," and receiving the information that 
all was well and nothing doing she would star- 
board helm and retrace her course. 

'' Yes, pretty tame," commented Tressidar 
in reply to a remark of Bar croft's, '' but we 
are getting quite used to it. Yesterday's scrap 
14 



210 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

came as a little tonic, although we didn't have 
so very much to do. Aubyn had the bounder 
well in hand already when we came up." 

" This youth," remarked Fuller, indicating 
the flight-sub, *' is an optimist of the deepest 
dye. What d'ye think is his idea of penultimate 
bliss ? Having dinner at a swagger hotel 
somewhere on the East Coast, with the blinds 
up and every available electric light switched 
on. 

'' That shows, Mr. Barcroft," said the lieu- 
tenant-commander, '' that you have a pretty 
firm belief in the fact that the war will be over 
some day — unless you are prepared to shell 
out to the tune of fifty pounds for an offence 
against the Defence of the Realm Act." 

'* Heaven forbid, sir!" replied Barcroft. 
"But, personally speaking, Tm fed up with 
having to hang about ashore in utter darkness. 
It's necessary, of course." 

'' Of course," echoed Tressidar. '' It's part 
of the mess of pottage we received when we 
sold our birthright on that memorable morning 
when Bleriot flew across the Channel. From 
that hour our insular superiority was threatened 
— ^not by La Belle France, though. Only the 
other day " 

A knock upon the door of the cabin, followed 
by the appearance of a messenger, interrupted 
the Heutenant-commander's narrative. 



HELD UP IN THE NORTH SEA 211 

" Orficer of the watch's compliments, sir," 
reported the man, '* an' there's a Danish vessel 
making to the nor '-west, distant three miles." 

'* Very good — carry on," replied the skipper, 
and snatching up his cap he hurried on deck, 
followed by the trio of naval airmen. 

The Dane proved to be a two-funnelled, two- 
masted craft of about 3,000 tons. On the fore- 
most funnel and along her sides were painted 
her national colours, while to leave no doubt 
as to her identity the words '' Trone — Dan- 
mark " appeared amidships in letters six feet 
in height. 

'' I've signalled to her to stop, sir," reported 
the officer of the watch. '* Ah, there she goes — 
well, signalman ? " 

The '' bunting-tosser," with his telescope 
glued to his eye, called out the letters of a string 
of bunting that rose to the '' Trone's " mast- 
head. His mate, having written various caba- 
listic signs on a signal-pad (the numbed state 
of his hands prevented his making any legible 
letters), hurried off to consult the International 
Code Book. 

*' Is it necessary for me to heave-to ? " was 
the significance of the Dane's signal. '' I have 
been examined twice already." 

'' Then three for luck, you bounder !" chuckled 
Tressidar. '* Signalman, hoist the Inter- 
national 'ID'." 



212 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

I D — signifying the peremptory order, 
" Heave-to or I will fire into you/* was a message 
not to be ignored. Patches of foam under the 
vessel's counter and streaming for'ard past her 
water-line announced that her engines were 
going astern in order to check her way. 

'' Like a trip in the boat, Mr. Barer oft ? " 
asked Tressidar, as he noticed the flight-sub 
regarding the boarding party with studied 
interest. '' Very good; you may learn a few 
tricks of the trade." 

With her guns trained upon the suspect — 
for experience had taught British officers that 
Hun raiders do not scruple to sail under neutral 
colours — the *' Antipas " circled round the now 
stationary '* Trone," the w^hile maintaining a 
sharp look-out for hostile submarines that have 
a habit of keeping in touch with ships liable 
to examination much in the same manner as 
a pilot fish attends upon a shark. 

*' She looks quite a mild cuss," observed the 
sub of the duty boat to Billy, ** but one never 
knows. A few weeks back I was boarding 
some old hooker. Pitch dark night and raining 
like blue blazes. V/e'd just run alongside when 
the blighters heaved something overboard — 
looked like an elephant by the size of it. Any- 
way, it missed us by a yard and gave us all a 
sousing, which we didn't mind as we were 
pretty wet already. Then she pushed off for 



HELD UP IN THE NORTH SEA 213 

all she was worth, thinking that our skipper 
would have to moon about and pick us up. He 
did," added the young officer grimly, '' — after 
he had squared accounts with the brute — 
another would-be ' Moewe/ A torpedo at five 
hundred yards settled her. In bow ! '' 

The bowman boated his oars, and balancing 
himself in the plunging bows of the little craft, 
dexterously secured the end of a coil of rope 
that was thrown from the " Trone's " deck. 

Up the swaying '* monkey-ladder " swarmed 
the British officers and men, and gaining the 
Dane's deck were received by the dapper, clean- 
shaven skipper. 

*' Of course, of course, I understand," replied 
the Dane in excellent English when the sub 
apologised for having had to compel him to 
heave-to. " Our papers are here. We are 
from Esbjerg to Newcastle with passengers 
and general cargo." 

*' Very good," replied the sub in charge of 
the boarding-party. '* I'll have a squint at 
your papers. Say, Barcroft, would you mind 
examining the passengers ? Try a few words 
of German on 'em unawares. That generally 
fetches the black-listers." 

The civilians, to the number of nineteen, were 
formed up on the poop. A few bore the appear- 
ance of being respectable, the others looked 
utterly out-and-out scarecrows 



214 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

The '' Tr one's " second mate appeared with 
the passenger Ust. To Billy's surprise ten of 
the men were English. 

'' Yes ; men sent back from Germany/' 
declared the mate, who, like his skipper, spoke 
English fluently. '' They were exchanged, and 
were to have travelled through Holland, but 
the Dutch steamers are temporarily stopped, 
so they came through Denmark instead." 

The scarecrows greeted Barcroft with cheerful 
smiles as he approached. In spite of their rags, 
the torments of hunger and degradation that 
they had undergone, they were British to the 
core — men over sixty years of age who, deemed 
to be useless by the Germans, had been re- 
patriated : living examples of the gentle and 
humane treatment afforded to the unfortunate 
captives who had the ill-luck to fall into the 
hands of the apostles of kultur. 

Billy interrogated the men one by one. No 
need to doubt their words. One and all were 
unanimous in their story of the horrors of the 
famine-prisons of Germany. 

'* I won't ever turn up my nose at a dog- 
biscuit after this, sir," said one old veteran of 
seventy-two. 

** William McDonald — where's WilHam 
McDonald ? " inquired Barcroft reading the 
names from the list 

'' Here, sir/' 



HELD UP IN THE NORTH SEA 215 

The speaker was of different appearance from 
the nine. Ahhough dressed in rough clothes 
his garments bore the appearance of being 
practically new, nor did his features betray 
the traces of months of semi-starvation. 

*' Not much to complain about," he replied 
in answer to the flight-sub's question. *' I 
was at Eylau. Fair amount of food and of 
good quality." 

'' You are not sixty, by any means," said 
Barer oft. 

" No, not fifty yet. Heart trouble — fit for 
nothing, so they sent me back to England." 

'' H'm," muttered the flight-sub. 

** He's one of a few that drew a lucky number, 
I'm thinking, sir," remarked the man who 
stood next to him. '' Fair slave-driven, that's 
what we were. But that's all over now, thank 
God." 

The rest of the passengers passed muster. 
They were Danish subjects — merchants and 
farmers, brought over at the instance of the 
British Government to assist in certain trans- 
actions between Great Britain and Denmark. 

*' A clean bill of health," reported Billy as the 
destroyer's sub rejoined him. 

''And all serene down below," rejoined the 
latter. '' We'll shove off. Thanks, captain, 
for your assistance ; sorry we had to hold you 
up, but we're at war, you know." 



2ie BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

'' Yes," added the Dane, " and you have 
our moral support. I wish that we were a 
bigger nation. We, too, have old scores to 
wipe off — my family lived at Flensburg for 
years until '66. Flensburg is in Germany 
now, but some day — who knows ? '* 

'' A good sort,'' announced the sub, as the 
boat made her way back to the '' Antipas." 
''Ihese Danes remember Schleswig-Holstein 
almost if not quite as much as the French do 
Alsace I,orraine. I shouldn't be surprised if 
they chip in just before the end, if only to get 
their lost provinces back. How about Denmark 
extending frontiers to the Kiel Canal, and 
making that artificial waterwa}^ an international 
concern, eh ? " 

Ihe sight of the destroyer dipping her en- 
sign caused both officers to turn their heads 
and look at the '' Trone." The latter was 
again under way and had just rehoisted her 
ensign after saluting the British warship. 

'' I feel downright sorry for those ten British- 
ers," thought Billy. ''Iheir experiences have 
put years on to their lives." 

But, had he known, he might have made 
an exception ; for, holding aloof from his com- 
panions, Mr. Wilham McDonald was thanking 
his lucky stars that he had again bluffed the 
inspecting officer. \Mthin the next twelve 
hours William hoped to reassume the name of 



HELD UP IN THE NORTH SEA ^17 

Andrew Norton, trusting to his natural cunning 
to explain satisfactorily the reason why he 
left the neighbourhood of Barborough so sud- 
denly on the night of the raid. 

Evidently Siegfried von Eitelwurmer, alias 
Andrew Norton, otherwise McDonald, had strong 
reasons for leaving his Fatherland in order to 
risk his life in the British Isles. 



CHAPTER XX 

INVESTIGATIONS 

"To come straight to the point, my dear Ent- 
wistle," said Peter Barcroft. '' I may say 
that I have two reasons for looking you up. 
The first is purely a matter of form — to inquire 
after your injured ankle. Judging by the way 
in which you crossed the room I think I am 
right in concluding that your recovery has 
been rapid and, I hope, permanent. No, don't 
limp, old man. That won't do. The second 
is to make inquiries respecting a donkey — ^to 
wit, one Butterfly." 

*' Oh ! " remarked Entwistle. '* Anything 
wrong ? What are the symptoms ? " 

*' A bad form of absentitis," replied Peter 
grimly. '' Don't you know ? " 

The vet. shook his head. 

'* Continue," he said, as he handed his 
tobacco-pouch to his caller. 

*' The brute never came back. In his hurry 
my son forgot to mention it — ^he was recalled 
by wire, and the young bounder never even 

218 



INVESTIGATIONS 219 

dropped me a postcard. Now Fm on Butter- 
fly's track. Can you assist me in my quest ? '* 

** Sorry/* replied Entwistle, taking the pouch 
and deUberately filhng his briar. '' Stay. I 
did mention to Billy that the animal ought to 
be shod. Why not inquire of the various 
blacksmiths on the way to Tarleigh ? Let me 
see: there's Schofield's in Cook Street, Barnes's 
in Forge Lane, and Thomas's in Dyke Street — 
they are all just oft Chumley Old Road. How 
did you come into Barborough — by train ? " 

'* No, I walked as far as the tram terminus/' 
replied Bar croft Senior. 

** If you like I'll run you back in my car,'* 
suggested the vet. '' We'll look the black- 
smiths up on our way. Any news of your 
friend Norton ? " 

'* Not a sign or a word/' 

^'H'm!" 

Entwistle shrugged his shoulders. Peter 
looked at him keenly. 

" Why that * h'm' ? " he asked. 

*' Only — ^by the bye, have the poUce been 
informed ? " 

Barcroft shook his head. 

** Not by me," he replied. *' I'm inclined 
to think that he'll turn up again in a day or 
two. It may be a form of eccentricity en- 
couraged by the excitement of the raid." 

Yes," agreed the vet. '' Three days ago. 



220 BILLY BARCROPT, R.N.A.S. 

Yes, it is quite about time he put in an appear- 
ance. Well, excuse me a moment. Fll tell 
Jarvis to bring the car round." 

'' Suie I'm not putting you out ? '' asked Peter. 

" On the contrary — delighted. As a matter 
of fact, I have to see a horse belonging to a 
farmer over Windyhill way, so it will be killing 
two birds with one stone. Now for this bad 
case of absentitis." 

Inquiries at two blacksmiths were without 
satisfactory result. The third, who happened 
to be the man who had shod the refractory 
Butterfly, could only state that the last he saw 
of the animal was that it was scampering along 
Jumbles Lane, and that the trap still remained 
in a shed in his yard. 

" Th' oughtn't ta' be much trouble to trace 
yon animal," concluded the smith. '' A cham- 
pion she were — ^a right down champion, mark 
you. They may clip her coat or dock her tail 
or change her colour, but 'tis her size as they can't 
alter. Meantimes Til keep a look-out, master, 
and if I hears aught '' 

'' Going to report the matter to the pohce ? " 
asked Entwistle, as the pair re-entered the car. 

*'I think not," replied Peter. ^^ It might 
end in the representative of the law running 
in every itinerant donkey owner on sight. I 
think I'll enlist the services of the Press to the 
tune of an eighteenpenny advertisement." 



INVESTIGATIONS 221 

Outside the newspaper offices a crowd had 
collected to read the latest bulletin : 

'' Destroyer Action in the Noith Sea. Ger- 
man torpedo-boats destroyed. British Naval 
Airmen rescued from sinking enemy craft." 

Making his way through the throng Peter 
entered the office, gave in his advertisement and 
bought a paper. 

'' That's great ! " he ejaculated as he read the 
brief report. *' Billy's pals, Fuller and Kirk- 
wood, saved by one of our destroyers. By Jove, 
Entwistle, who says that the British Nav}^ is 
sitting tight in harbour ? Whenever there's an 
opportunity our lads in navy blue are on it." 

'' Then why the deuce confine the facts to 
a few bald lines ? " asked the vet. '' The 
job's done properly, and a stirring story it would 
make ! Something to buck up people at home. 
Instead, you have to rely upon your imagina- 
tion, which is apt to let you down." 

'' Give it up," said Peter the optimist. '' All 
I know is that we are top dog, and everything 
will pan out all right in the end.'* 

'' Granted," agreed Entwistle. *' The Navy's 
all right ; the New Army is splendid — we'll 
muddle through somehow, in spite of the 
miserable legacy of the Wait and See crowd. 
There's a hymn beginning ' A people who in 
darkness sat.' That sums up the whole state 
of the civil population of Great Prilain. To 



222 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

my mind the nation resembles a mass of iron 
filings spread out on a sheet of paper — all 
sixes and sevens. A magnet will instantly 
cause those particular pieces of metal to fly 
into orderly formation following the lines of 
magnetic force : a Man will be able to do the 
same with the nation, only, unfortunately, we 
haven't yet found the Man. We as Britons trust 
too much to chance — to a sort of voluntary 
organisation of labour. Result, every man is ask- 
ing why some one else doesn't do his bit and tries 
to persuade himself that he is a sort of indis- 
pensable himself. I shouldn't be surprised if 
the war ends in a patched-up peace." 

*' No fear," asserted Barcroft firmly — so em- 
phatically that Entwistle almost relaxed his 
grip upon the steering wheel and narrowly 
avoided collision with a brewer's dray. '' There'll 
be nothing of the sort. The men who are now 
fighting mean to see the business through and 
not leave the horrors of war to be repeated with 
triple violence as a legacy to their children 
and their children's children. It's got to be 
done — and done it will be, even if it takes 
another two years." 

When in due course the car arrived at the 
narrow lane leading to Ladybird Fold, Entwistle, 
somewhat to his companion's astonishment, 
insisted upon driving right up to the house. 

" No hurry," commented the vet. '' I like 



INVESTIGATIONS 223 

taking a car along a tricky path. Hullo ! there 
are your dogs, Barcroft. They seem to know 
that I'm something in the animal line, and wish 
to be run over in order to give me a job." 

The car came to a standstill at the house. 
Peter descended, to be overwhelmed with the 
noisy and frantic attentions of Ponto and Nan. 

" Come in," he said, '' May as well have 
tea with us." 

''Thanks, I will," replied Entwistle; then 
pointing in the direction of ''The Croft," the 
tiled roof of which was just visible above the 
ridge of a hill, " Is that where Norton hangs 
out ? I've heard of the place. What sort of 
a show is it ? " 

" Come and see for yourself," said Barcroft. 
" There'll be time for a stroll before tea. I 
have the key, thanks to the magnificent con- 
descension of Mrs. What's-her-name, Norton's 
generalissimo and domestic help, ^^^ly are 
you anxious to see the place ? Thinking of 
renting it and being my nearest neighbour if 
Norton fails to return ? " 

" Perhaps," laughed PhiUp Entwistle. 
" When I retire, and I cannot see myself doing 
that yet." 

"I wouldn't," said Peter gravely. "Re- 
tirement is a rotten state for a professional 
man to enter into. Sudden dislocation of 
his routine, nothing to occupy his mind — 



224 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

result, he generally pegs out in a couple of 
years. Fve noticed it scores of times/' 

'* It's all very well for you literary fellows 
to talk," protested Entwistle. '' You can never 
complain of overwork." 

'' There you are mistaken," said Barcroft. 
*' I admit I slack off a little now, but at one 
time I dare not. It may seem easy for a fellow 
to knock off a couple of thousand words a day, 
but try it for a year and see how it feels. Re- 
member, it isn't the actual work of putting pen 
to paper. One has to think, and think jolly 
hard. Do you remember some years ago a 
man tried to cover a thousand miles in a thou- 
sand consecutive hours ? One mile an hour 
day and night. Doesn't seem much, but im- 
agine what it means." 

'' You seem to have done pretty well out of 
it," remarked Entwistle. 

*' It took some doing," confessed Peter. '' I 
can recall a certain Christmas Eve when, with 
two other congenial spirits, I sat in a fireless attic 
in Town. We were literally on our beam ends 
— too jolly proud to sample the fatted calf that 
awaited us in our respective parents' homes. I 
think we had sevenpence halfpenny between us." 

'' Sounds cheerful." 

^' Precisely. However, being fresh-air fiends 
even in those days, we had left the window 
open " 



INVESTIGATIONS 225 

'* And some philanthrophic soul threw in 
a big parcel of provender ? '* 

" Into the attic window of a six-storeyed 
house ? Hardly. No ; a pigeon flew in. It 
never flew out again, for in less than twenty 
minutes it was roasting in front of the land- 
lady's kitchen fire. That same evening one 
of my companions in distress received an 
unexpected guinea for a pot-boiler, and there 
was no longer famine in the land.'* 

The two men had now climbed the hill and 
were outside the front door of The Croft. 
The house was considerably smaller than Lady- 
bird Fold, although built on the same principle. 
At one time it had been a farm house, but most 
of the outbuildings had been removed. Stand- 
ing on higher ground it commanded even a more 
extensive outlook than that enjoyed by the 
Barcrofts ; in fact, almost the whole of Bar- 
borough could be discerned. 

Within, the place was plainly furnished. 
The ground floor consisted of stone flags on 
which were spread large mats. The fireplace 
was large and at one time boasted of a chimney 
corner and settle. In the grate a fire had been 
laid in anticipation of Mr. Norton's return. 

'* I'm just going upstairs to shut those 
windows," said Peter. '' I suppose Norton's 
D.T. forgot to close them. Do you want to 
have a look round the upper rooms ? '' 
15 



226 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

'* Not with this ankle. It feels a bit painful/' 
replied Entwistle. *' If you don't mind I'll 
wait here." 

Directly he heard the sound of Barcroft's 
footsteps through the raftered ceiling Entwistle 
stole softly to the desk that stood in the 
corner of the room. Slipping on a pair of thin 
gloves and producing a bundle of keys from his 
trouser's pocket he set deliberately to work to 
open the locked drawers, for in contrast to Peter 
Barer of t's easy-going methods Andrew Norton 
had locked everything up, notwithstanding 
his supposedly temporary visit to Ladybird 
Fold on the night of the raid. 

In less than thirty seconds Entwistle had 
the desk open. Deftly he went through a 
pile of papers, as brazenly as Andrew Norton 
had examined the manuscript on Peter's bureau. 
In quantity there was very little : a small 
batch of tradesmen's receipts, a notebook half 
filled with calculations evidently referring to 
electrical problems, a few letters that seemed 
of no interest except to the writers and their 
recipient, and an unfinished manuscript wi'itten 
on two sheets of loolscap, the opening sentences 
of which were as follows : 

** Whenever you have an opportunity 
of visiting Dartmoor I should strongly 
advise you to take it. It is fairly easy to 



INVESTIGATIONS 227 

reach from Plymouth. Even in the depth 
of winter the rugged uplands have their 
charm. When last in that neighbourhood I 
took coach to Totnes. Every few hours a 
boat runs to Dartmouth. If tide permits, 
I ought to add. The Dart is a charm- 
ingly picturesque river. In the town itself 
there is much to be seen. Several of the 
old houses, especially in the Butter-walk, 
are worthy of close inspection. The castle 
is open to visitors. Every faciUty for 
tourists and visitors in the town. Some 
fishing to be had in the river. Better 
hauls are to be obtained in Start Bay. 
It is advisable to take a professional 
boatman, as the tide is tricky and at times 
dangerous. Sailing boats can be hired 
by the day or hour. Zealous devotees of 
the piscatorial art will have no cause to 
regret their choice of this fishing centre. 
Up the river, above Totnes, trout abound. 
Rules and regulations relating to the close 
seasons are by no means drastic." 

PhiUp Entwistle chuckled as he perused this 
document. 

*' Sort of thing that would easily pass the 
Press Censor,'' he said to himself. '* At first 
sight a kind of extract from a guide book to 
Devonshire. Quite harmless — I think not. 



228 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

Now let me jot down the first letter of each 
sentence : WIE (that's promising) WEIT 
(better) 1ST (better still) ES (now we begin 
to see light. German for a dead cert) BIS 
ZUR KLIPPEN HOHE, which, translated, 
means, ' What is the distance to the summit 
of the cliffs ? ' That's good enough. 1*11 
take the liberty of borrowing this document. 
I must risk friend Norton returning before 
to-morrow.'' 

Carefully refolding the papers the vet. placed 
them in his inside coat-pocket, then having 
sUpped the catch of the window, he awaited 
Peter's return. 

'' Hope I haven't kept you ? " inquired 
Barcroft. 

'* Not at all," was the prompt reply. 

'* By the bye," remarked Peter as the pair 
retraced their steps to Ladybird Fold, '' this 
might interest you. I meant to have shown 
it you before, but somehow I forgot." 

He handed Entwistle a copy of the document 
that had been found on the body of the German 
airman. 

Philip Entwistle read it carefully. 

*' Ha ! A price on your head, eh ? " he 
remarked. 

'' I don't take it seriously," said Peter. '' It 
may be genuine. Billy handed it to me just 
as the train was leaving the station. He had 



INVESTIGATIONS 229 

no time to explain. Usual family failing, I 
suppose — leaving things to the last minute.'* 

Entwistle made no reply to his companion's 
remarks. He was thinking deeply, trying to 
piece together certain items that had already 
been brought to his notice. 

*' I won't tell him just yet,'* he soliloquised. 
" Must make sure of my ground first." 

After tea Entwistle drove away, ostensibly 
to visit a farmer at Windyhill. As a matter 
of fact he stopped at the Waterloo Hotel, 
retired to a private room and made a careful 
copy of the document he had annexed from 
The Croft. 

'* So that's how they communicate with 
him," he mused. *' Simple solution when you've 
been given the tip. The next point is : how 
does he convey his information to them ? " 

Late that night Entwistle returned from 
\Mndyhill by a loop route that passed within 
half a mile of The Croft. Driving his car 
off the road and on to a patch of waste land 
he extinguished the lights. This done he 
walked over the moor to The Croft, opened 
the unlatched window, entered the house and 
replaced the borrowed document. 

Then, conscious of a good day's work accom- 
plished, he went home, to gather up the tangled 
skeins of the complicated task in hand. 



CHAPTER XXI 

ON THE TRAIL 

At ten o'clock the following morning Peter 
Bar croft had a visitor. The announcement, 
delivered by Mrs. Carter, was greeted with a 
flow of forcible language. 

'* Tell the blithering idiot I can't see him 
now," shouted Mr. Barcroft. *' I'm busy. He 
must call again in an hour's time." 

The Little Liver Pill departed with the 
message, to return with the information that 
the caller came with news of " that there moke." 

'' In that case, show him in," decided Peter. 

The informant was a short, thick-set, bow- 
legged man, with features that had cunning 
stamped indelibly on every Hne. His watery 
blue eyes and stubbly grey moustache con- 
trasted vividly with his reddish complexion, 
the colour of which reached its maximum 
intensity at the tip of his turned-up nose. 
'' The straight tip, guv'ner, an' no questions 
axed," began the man, winking solemnly. 

*' What d'ye mean ? " demanded Peter. 

230 



ON THE TRAIL 281 

" Wot I says/' replied the slightly inebriated 
one. *' You offers in this 'ere paper a bloomin' 
quid to any bloke as gives information about 
your moke. 'Ere's the bloke — ^me. Na, 'ow 
abaht it ? " 

*' Can you produce the animal ? " asked 
Bar croft. 

''Wot! Tike me fer a bloomin' conjurer? 
D'ye fink as 'ow I can make a bloomin' moke 
come outer me 'at like a rabbit ? " 

'* In that case I don't think I'll trouble you 
any further," said Peter, placing his hand on 
the bell. 

'' 'Old 'ard, guv'ner ! " interrupted the man. 
*' You mistakes my meanin.' Wot I says is 
this, if you'll pardon my manner o' speech. 
I knows where your donkey is. A chap wot I 
owes a grudge to 'as pinched it. You pay me 
the quid, I'll give you the straight tip, s'long 
as you don't bring my name inter it, an' there 
you are. You gets yer moke back agen an' 
it's a jimmy o' goblin well spent." 

Peter considered the points raised. He felt 
disinclined to treat with the rascal. He might 
have telephoned for the poHce, but it was hardly 
a case of blackmail. Quite possibly at the 
threat of the law the fellow might be cowed ; 
on the other hand he might shut up like an 
oyster. Again, the whole story might be a cock- 
and-bull yarn with the idea of getting money. 



282 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

"Very well," said Barcroft at length. "I 
agree. Now tell me where the animal is.'' 

" Steady on, guv'ner,'' protested the man. 
'* 'Ow abaht it ? — ^the quid, I means." 

'' I've promised," said Peter. " My word 
is your bond." 

'* Sooner 'ave the brass." 

'' Wlien I regain possession of the animal," 
decided the lawful owner firmly. '' You give 
me your name and address and directly I recover 
my property I will send you the money. You 
cannot reasonably expect me to trust you, an 
utter stranger, with a sovereign on the off- 
chance that I may get the animal back on the 
strength of your information. In fact, rather 
than do so, I would let the donkey go. Now, 
make up your mind quickly. My time is 
precious." 

Ihe informer scratched the back of his head. 

"Look 'ere, guv'ner," he began. "I don't 
want to be 'axd on yer " 

*' You won't, my man," interrupted Peter 
grimly. *' JN ow, yes or no : which is it to be ? " 

*' Orl right," exclaimed the man in a tone 
of virtuous resignation. ''I'll tell, only you 
might 'ave parted with that there quid on the 
nail. I won't give yer me name, but p'raps 
you won't object ter me a-comin' round an' 
coUectin' the brass when you've got the moke 
back ? " 



ON THE TRAIL 288 

To this Peter assented. 

^'You'U find the donkey at Bigthorpe/' 
continued the fellow. '' Third archway of the 
viaduct across Thorpe Beck — Stigler's the name 
o' the bloke wot pinched 'er, although she 
trotted into 'is father's place down in Bar- 
borough. Stigler's a bad 'un, so yer wants to 
be pretty fly or 'e'll be seUin' 'er to some one. 
That's the straight tip, guv'ner, an' don't you 
ferget it — ^third archway o' Thorpe Beck Via- 
duct. Supposin' I looks in fer that quid this 
day week ? " 

*' Very good," agreed Peter, as he showed 
his visitor to the door. '' By the bye, what 
sort of man is this Mr. Stigler ? " 

'' I reckon as 'ow 'e's a bit of a bruiser/' 
was the not unexpected reply. 

When his caller had taken his departure 
Barcroft reviewed the situation. Bruiser or 
no bruiser Mr. Stigler had to be tackled, and 
Peter was not a man to be intimidated. He 
would go at once to Bigthorpe. But perhaps 
it would be as well to have some one with him. 
He thought of PhiHp Entwistle ; he remembered 
his new-found friend remarking that he was 
not particularly busy. 

Although he detested having to use the tele- 
phone — he would much rather have taken the 
trouble to go into Barborough to broach the 
matter, only time was of importance — ^Peter 



234 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

rang up the vet. The reply was to the effect 
that Mr. Entwistle was away from home and 
was not expected back until to-morrow. 

" That's done it," muttered Barcroft. '' FU 
go alone.'* 

It was normally a two hours' railway journey 
to Bigthorpe, a fairly large town in the East 
Riding of Yorkshire, but owing to various 
unforeseen delays the clocks were striking four 
when Peter reached his destination. 

Having obtained direction from a porter as 
to the nearest way to Thorpe Beck Viaduct 
Peter walked out of the station, and to his 
surprise ran into the missing Andrew Norton. 

" Hullo ! " exclaimed the spy, somewhat 
guardedly, for he had to feel his ground. " I 
hardly expected to see you here." 

*' Nor did I," rephed Peter extending his 
hand, which the other grasped with well-assumed 
cordiahty. 

" You've heard ? " 

*' I've heard nothing." 

*' I wired to my housekeeper yesterday," 
explained the soi-disant Norton. '' Had a sort 
of nervous breakdown — complete loss of mem- 
ory." 

'' The Zep. raid, I suppose ? " asked Peter 
sympathetically. 

" Yes, yes, precisely — the Zep. raid, confound 
it ! " said the German hurriedly. '' I remember 



ON THE TRAIL 235 

the bombs dropping, and I ran, goodness knows 
where. Must have wandered about all night. 
Have some recollection of finding myself at a 
strange railway station. Eventually I arrived 
at Bigthorpe, not even remembering my name 
and address until I found my registration card 
in my pocket. Deuced useful things those 
cards. However, since I was at Bigthorpe, I 
thought I would stay there a couple of days or 
so to restore my shattered nerves. Just back 
by the 4.38." 

*' Can you postpone your return for another 
day ? '' asked Peter. ''I'm returning to-mor- 
row. But perhaps I oughtn't to detain you, 
although everything's all right at The Croft." 

'' Is it ? " asked the spy. '' Thanks awfully. 
No, I'm afraid I can't stop here any longer." 

*' In that case I'll see you anon," said 
Peter. *' Oh, while I think of it : where were 
you staying here ? I know nothing about the 
place and must get a room at a comfortable 
hotel." 

Von Eitelwurmer considered for a momenl 
He was not altogether sure that Barer oft was 
not " pulling his leg." Early that morning 
the "Trone" had arrived at a British port, 
and on landing the spy had successfully main- 
tained the role of McDonald the repatriated 
prisoner from Eylau. He was now returning 
to Barboroagh, with a view to making careful 



286 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

inquiries as to whether it would be quite safe 
to return to his house at Tarleigh. 

*' Where was I staying ? " repeated the spy. 
" At the ' Antelope/ Wouldn't advise you, 
though. Not at all comfortable — catering rot- 
ten, rooms wretchedly cold and draughty. 
Well, au revoir, Barcroft. May look you up 
to-morrow night.'' 

'' Do," replied Peter cordially. '* You know 
the time." 

The question as to how he was to get the 
donkey home in the event of Butterfly being 
found had hardly occurred to her owner until 
Peter was in the train. In any case he could 
not hope to return that night. To-morrow he 
might make arrangements with the railway 
company. Meanwhile he must secure quarters 
at an hotel. 

" I'll try the ' Antelope,' " he decided. 
" What's good enough for Norton ought to 
suit me. Fortunately I am not altogether 
unaccustomed to discomforts." 

The exterior of the hotel rather behed his 
friend's disparaging remarks ; the interior even 
more so. The place seemed replete with modern 
conveniences. 

'* I've been recommended by Mr. Andrew 
Norton, who has been staying here for the last 
three or foiu: days," announced Peter. '' I 
require a room." 



ON THE TRAIL 287 

" No gentleman of that name has been 
staying here, sir," repUed the hotel clerk. '' At 
least, not recently. Yes, sir, this is the only 
' Antelope.' Perhaps you would like to see 
the registration papers ? " 

Peter examined the documents. None were 
made out in the name of Andrew Norton, nor 
were any filled in in his handwTiting. 

'' Perhaps I have made a mistake/' he said. 
'* But that is of little consequence. If you 
will let me have a room '* 

Ten minutes later Batrcroft was on his way 
to Thorpe Beck Viaduct. Altogether he could 
not form a satisfying solution to Norton's 
statement, until he came to the conclusion that 
in his excitable state of mind his friend had 
muddled up the names of two or more hotels. 

'' By Jove ! I will take the rise out of him 
when I see him again," he chuckled. ** Fancy 
putting up at the * Pig and Whistle/ most 
Hkely, and imagining he was at the ' Antelope.' 
That's a great jape/' 

Presently he came in sight of the viaduct, 
the spaces between the lofty granite arches of 
which were utilised as cow-sheds and stables. 

No, Mr. Stigler was not there, so a half- 
witted, deformed lad informed him. A 
donkey ? Yes, there had been a donkey there. 
Mr. Stigler had sold it that afternoon to a pedlar 
living at Scarby. Where was Scarby ? A mat- 



238 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

ter of about ten miles and right on the coast. 
Anybody at Scarby would tell him where old 
Joe Pattercough lived. 

Peter Barer oft rose to the occasion. Added 
difficulties only increased his determination 
to see the thing through. He decided to cancel 
his room at the '' Antelope '' and proceed by 
the first train to Tongby, the nearest station 
to the seaside hamlet of Scarby. 



CHAPTER XXII 

THE STRUGGLE ON THE CLIFFS 

" A MATTER o' fower moiles, sir/' replied an 
old fisherman in answer to Peter's inquiry as 
to the way to Scarby. '* That is, if you'll be 
taking t' cliff path, which I wouldn't advise 
you, seeing as 'ow you'm a stranger. 'Tain't 
pertickler safe is yon path. Follow the right- 
hand road. 'Tis a bit roughish in parts, but 
main passable." 

Mr. Barer oft thanked the man for his in- 
formation and set out briskly upon his way. 
Twilight had already set in, to add to the diffi- 
culties of the last stage of the journey of the 
intrepid Peter. Ahead rose the steep hill 
termniating in a frowning cliff — the first of three 
such ridges that lay betwixt him and Scarby. 
Away on his left he could discern a momentary 
glimpse of the North Sea, now grey and sullen 
and mottled by patches of fog that drifted 
slowly with the faint westerly breeze. 

At a mile from Tongby railway station he 
struck the fork roads. The one to the left 

239 



240 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

was the cliff-path, an aknost grass-grown track, 
marked at regular intervals by whitewashed 
stones — necessary guides for the coastguards 
on a pitch-black night when a false step might 
hurl the incautious pedestrian to his death 
over the brink of a three-hundred-foot cUff. 
The right-hand way was a little better, although, 
judging by its condition, rarely used except by 
country carts. On either side the ground was 
rugged and thickly covered with gorse. 

\\ ilder grew the countryside as Peter breasted 
the first of the three hills. Stunted trees, 
standing out against the crimson afterglow of 
the sky, assumed weird and fantastic shapes. 
To the faint moaning of the wind and the mur- 
mur of the sea came an accompaniment in the 
form of the cries of countless seabirds that 
find a nesting-place in the frowning face of 
those almost perpendicular cHffs. 

Inland all was darkness. The narrow valleys 
contained human habitations, no doubt, but 
there was not a sign of their presence. 

Peter's thoughts turned to his son as he 
looked seaward. Somewhere out there — it 
might be a matter of a few miles or of hundreds 
— Billy was serving King and country, perhaps 
snugly sheltered in the *' Hippodrome's " ward- 
room, or, on the other hand, cutting through 
the darkness at an altitude of several hundred 
feet. It was not a pleasant task on a late 



THE STRUGGLE ON THE CLIFFS 241 

autumnal night. With his trained imagina- 
tion Peter could picture his boy out there — 
simply because of the German Emperor's insane 
ambition. 

'' Not content to let well alone/' soliloquised 
Peter, ''even when the German Empire was 
on the high road to commercial success and 
internal prosperity, the All Highest must butt 
in and try to upset everything. Incidentally 
Wilhelm has done the British Empire a lasting 
service. He has cemented it far more effectively 
than centuries of legislation. He has welded 
it into a homogeneous whole ; he has awakened 
every Briton worthy of the name to a sense 
of his individual responsibility to the colossal 
task that confronts him. And, by Jove, we 
mean to see this business through. No half 
measures. A lasting peace built upon the 
ruins of German militarism." 

Peter's reveries were suddenly interrupted 
by the sound of creaking cart-wheels and the 
steady patter of a beast of burden. 

'' Wonder if that is Butterfly ? " he thought. 
'* Now, if Mr. Pattercough is of the same type 
as friend Stigler and a bit of a tough customer 
I'd best lie low. Somehow I hardly like to 
argue the point about the lawful ownership 
of a donkey in this desolate spot." 

There wero plenty of places of concealment. 
Barcroft selected the shelter afforded by a 
16 



242 BILLY BARCROFT. R.N.A.S. 

gorse-bush close to the left hand side of the 
road. Immediately opposite was a beaten track 
that evidently effected a junction with the cliff - 
path. At any rate, it wound in that direction, 
following the steeply sloping sides of a narrow, 
rugged valley. 

The cart approached slowly. The driver 
seemed in no hurry, for he made no attempt 
either by word of mouth or by the application 
of his whip to hasten the animal. Only when 
the vehicle was opposite Peter's place of con- 
cealment did the man utter a subdued '* Woa." 

The donkey — for such it was — made no 
attempt to stop. " That's Butterfly for a 
dead cert," commented Peter. 

The man uttered an imprecation, jumped 
from the cart and tugged viciously at the 
animal's bridle. Then, by main force, he backed 
the donkey a short distance along the side track. 

*' Plenty o' time," Barcroft heard him remark. 
*' Better an hour too early than five minutes 
too late." 

** Awkward habit, expressing one's thoughts 
aloud," mused Peter. '' I do it myself occa- 
sionally, and I know. ISTow, what are you doing 
with a loaded cart on this unfrequented road 
at this time of night ? I scent a mystery. I'll 
wait an hour and see what happens. If nothing, 
then I will kick myself for being an inquisitive 
ass." 



THE STRUGGLE ON THE CLIFFS 248 

The pedlar was not going to be inactive. 
Unharnessing the donkey — Peter was now ab- 
solutely convinced that it was Butterfly — he 
led the animal to a patch of grass-land hidden 
from the road by the bushes, a task requiring 
considerable physical strength. This done he 
backed the cart from the path until the gorse 
hid it from the watcher's sight. 

Ten long minutes passed. The pedlar, swing- 
ing his arms vigorously, for the night air was 
chilly, made no attempt to look up or down 
the road. The person or persons he expected 
were evidently not approaching from that 
direction. Presently he walked to the cart, 
removed something from under the tarpaulin 
— it was too dark to see what the article was — • 
and set off along the side track. 

At fifty yards he surmounted a steep rise 
and disappeared the other side. The sound 
of his footsteps, deadened by the nature of the 
soil, quickly died away. 

" Now I'll investigate," decided Barcroft. 
''If he returns in a hurry there'll be trouble. 
Friend Pattercough looks like a quarrelsome 
card. However, I'll risk it." 

He stole cautiously to the place where the 
donkey and cart stood. Butterfly, indifferent 
to the attentions of her lawful master, browsed 
steadily at the scanty herbage. The cart, 
although inanimate, was far more interesting. 



244 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

It was piled high with faggots and bundles of 
brushwood, a tarpaulin being tightly lashed 
over the top of the load. Mingled with the 
scent of the newly-cut wood was the faint 
odour of petrol. 

Without the slightest hesitation Barcroft 
probed the load with his stick. The ferrule 
grated against metal — the side of a tin. Again 
and again he tried ; the bottom of the cart 
was packed with petrol-cans. 

'' Now, if I set fire to this little lot who would 
stand the racket ? " inquired Peter. '' This 
is obviously intended to be used illicitly — ^for 
supplying German submarines, although I can't 
be sure on that point. On the other hand, 
how would I stand under the Defence of the 
Realm regulations if I started a gorgeous 
bonfire ? An hour too soon, he said ; well, 
there's a quarter of an hour or twenty minutes 
gone, I should imagine. Remains enough time 
for me to get to Scarby, rout out the coast- 
guards and put a stopper on this little game." 

With this praiseworthy resolution Barcroft 
hurried off, keeping to the grassy ground in 
order to deaden the sound of his footsteps. 
His prowess as a long-distance runner had not 
entirely departed, although lack of training 
tried his wind sorely. 

At the outskirts of the darkened village he 
came to a row of grey lime-washed cottages 



THE STRUGGLE ON THE CLIFFS 245 

in front of which a tall flagstaff loomed up 
against the misty starlight. 

''Halt!" exclaimed a hoarse voice peremp- 
torily. 

Peter halted. Confronting him was a great- 
coated, gaitered, bearded man in seaman's 
uniform. 

'' 'Gainst orders to use this path after dark/' 
quoth the coastguardsman. '' WTiat's your 
name ? And what are you doing running 
like this at this time o' night ? " 

'' How many men have you at the station ? " 
asked Barer oft breathlessly. 

'* Eh ? What do you want this information 
for ? " demanded the man suspiciously. 
'' You'd best come along with me an' give no 
trouble. Strikes me there's something that 
ain't proper jonnick." 

Barcroft preceded the seaman up the shingled 
path leading to the watch house. 

'' Look here, my man," he said authorita- 
tively. '' You had better inform your chief 
officer and turn out the detachment. I've 
hurried here expressly to tell you that a man 
from the village, Pattercough by name, is 
running a cargo of petrol. Barcroft's my 
name. I have documents to prove it. Also 
I have a son a commissioned officer in the 
Service, as you will find if you refer to a Navy 
List." 



246 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

" In that case I ask your pardon/* replied 
the coastguard, whose badges proclaimed him 
to be a chief petty officer. '' I'm in charge, sir. 
This station is partly closed down since the 
war. Tve only a few Boy Scouts to give you 
a hand — an' smart, plucky youngsters they 
are, too." 

'* Any special constables in the village ? " 

"Not one, sir; in fact, there ain't what 
one might call an able-bodied man in the place, 
barring this Pattercough. Tribunal exempted 
him 'evings only knows what for." 

*' Then turn out the Scouts," said Peter. 
*' They'll come in jolly useful. There's no 
time to be lost." 

Quickly half a dozen of the lads were on the 
spot, falling in at the word of command from 
the patrol leader. In a few words Barcroft 
explained the situation, enjoining silence until 
the petty officer gave the word for action. 

''I'll just telephone through to Tongby and 
let our chaps know," said the coastguard. 

In orderly formation the party set off to the 
place where the pedlar had left his cart. At 
''Scouts* Pace" — ^alternately walking and run- 
ning — ^the distance was quickly covered. But- 
terfly and the load were still in sombre isolation. 

" He made off in that direction," whispered 
Peter. 

'*To Black GhyU Bay then," repUed the 



THE STRUGGLE ON THE CLIFFS 247 

petty officer. " Artful bounder ! He knew 
when our patrols pass, and chose his time.'* 

With redoubled caution the party set off in 
single file, the sailor leading the way and 
Peter following up at the rear of the Scouts. 
Not a sound betrayed their presence — it wab 
mainly owing to the fact that they all wore 
well -used foot gear. 

Presently Peter found himself on the point 
of cannoning into the back of the Scout just 
ahead of him. The party had halted. With- 
out the slightest confusion they concealed 
themselves behind a row of bushes that grew 
almost on the edge of the cliff. The petty 
officer raised one hand and pointed. 

Through the darkness Barcroft could just 
distinguish the outlines of a human form 
crouching in the gorge barely ten yards on his 
right front, where the cliff began to fall away 
and form a ravine known as Black Ghyll. 

At intervals the man in hiding raised his 
head and peered cautiously over the thick 
bush. Not once did he look behind. His 
attention was centred solely upon the foreshore 
or else seaward ; he was totally oblivious of 
the fact that he was being watched intently 
by eight pairs of eyes. 

Out to sea everything seemed swallowed 
up in pitch-black darkness. Only the measured 
beating of the groundswell upon the shingly 



248 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

shore gave the watchers any indication, apart 
from their local knowledge, that the wide North 
Sea was almost at their feet. The stars, too, 
had disappeared from view, for the mist had 
increased and was now threatening to develop 
into a regular sea-fog. 

Suddenly the darkness was pierced by a 
faint ray of light emanating from a mere pin- 
prick of luminosity. Short flash — obscuration 
— ^long flash — obscuration — ^short flash : that 
was all, but sufficient to indicate that out in 
that void of Cimmerian gloom some one was 
signalling. 

The suspect rose and leaned forward. It 
looked as if he were spread-eagled over the 
gorse-bush. For quite a minute he remained 
there, then leaving his place of concealment 
he made his way towards the beach, crouching 
as stealthily as a panther behind every obstacle 
until he made sure of his ground. 

Perhaps it was the strain of watching in 
the darkness ; perhaps the thought that the 
suspect might escape ; but whatever the motive 
the fact remained that one of the Scouts, utter- 
ing a loud yell, broke from cover and dashed 
towards the man, brandishing his staif like a 
Berserk. 

" That's done it ! " mentally ejaculated Peter. 

The premature and unauthorised action left 
no alternative. 



THE STRUGGLE ON THE CLIFFS 249 

" At him, lads ! " shouted the petty officer. 

The fellow stood his ground, expostulating 
angrily. But his words fell unheeded. Like a 
pack of hounds the eager and alert youngsters 
literally threw themselves upon the suspect, 
and bore him to the ground. 

Over and over they rolled, the gorse crackling 
under their weight. Only a few gaunt stumps 
prevented the struggling mob from tumbling 
over the brink of the fearful abyss. Unable 
to bear a hand Peter and the petty officer 
stood well-nigh breathless with suspense, ex- 
pecting every minute to see the suspect and 
his assailants topple into space. 

The struggle was short-lived. The fellow's 
efforts at resistance ceased. Bound hand and 
foot and with the ten-stone patrol leader 
sitting on his chest he realised that the game 
was up. 

"Get your staves, lads,'' ordered the patrol- 
leader. ''Form a stretcher. We'll carry him 
as far as the cart." 

'* Strikes me I hear engines," declared the 
coastguardsman. '* There, what's that ? " 

A dull, rasping sound and the splash of 
disturbed water broke the silence. A moment 
later the night breeze carried the unmistakable 
noise of a vessel's engines running at full speed 
ahead. 

The petty officer was quick to act. Raising 



tSO BILLY BaRCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

his hands to his mouth he shouted in stentorian 
tones : 

'' Ship ahoy ! Go full speed astern instantly. 
You're heading straight for Black Ghyll." 

The clang of the engine-room telegraph bell 
followed quickly, to the accompaniment of short, 
crisp orders and the trample of boots upon a 
metal deck. 

It was already too late. With a rending 
crash the vessel, whatever she might be, ran 
bows on to the jagged rocks. 

'' That's done it ! Her number's up,'' ex- 
claimed the petty officer. " Now, lads, four of 
you come with me. There's work to be done 
there, I reckon. The others stay with this 
gentleman and guard the prisoner till we 
return." 

'' Look here," said the captive in well-nigh 
breathless expostulation. ''You've made a 
rotten mistake. Spoilt everything." 

Peter felt his heart give a furious beat. 
Regardless of regulations he bent over the 
prostrate prisoner and struck a match. 

The flickering flame revealed the indignant 
features of Phihp Entwistle. 



CHAPTER XXIII 

ON THE ROCKS 

*' So I haven't been able to chuck you fellows 
yet/' remarked Lieutenant-commander Tres- 
sidar. '' And what is more I see no Ukelihood 
at present of so doing. We've just had a wire- 
less to proceed east to a position somewhere 
off the mouth of the Humber." 

'' We are not at all fed up with your hos- 
pitality, Tress," replied Fuller, '' only we ought 
to have been on board the old ' Hippo ' long 
ago. I think, if there's a chance, we ought to get 
ashore, report to the Commander-in-Chief and 
await orders." 

The "Antipas" was steaming at a good 
twenty knots. It was late in the afternoon ; 
the sea calm, the sky slightly overcast. With 
a steadily-rising glass the weather showed 
indication of continuing fine, notwithstanding 
the presence of patches of sea-fog. 

Towards sunset the fog increased until it 
was no longer safe for the destroyer to main- 
tain her speed. Fishing boats, dauntlessly 
risking the submarine menace, were frequently 

251 



252 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

in these waters. To tear blindfold through 
the dense mist would be courting disaster. 

The slowing down of the engines brought 
the three airmen on deck. 

'' Fog ! " exclaimed Kirkwood. '' Rough 
luck. I thought that we were entering port 
when the skipper rang down for easy ahead." 

'' Pretty thick, too," added Barcroft. *' It's 
as much as I can do to see the bridge. Beastly 
calm, too ; what do you say to returning to 
our little rubber of dummy ? " 

*' Now Tm here Til stop," decided Fuller, 
drawing his coat across his chest. '' Hullo ! 
they're taking soundings. That looks as if 
we were nearing shore." 

For nearly an hour the '' Antipas " literally 
" smelt her way." Darkness had fallen, and 
with it the fog bank increased in density 
and dimensions. No longer was it possible to 
discern anything beyond a couple of yards. 
No discordant hoot blared from the syren, no 
navigation lights were shown. Beyond slowing 
down nothing more could be done, owing to war 
conditions, to safeguard the destroyer from 
risks of collision. 

** Hullo, you fellows ! " exclaimed the lieu- 
tenant of the destroyer as, clad in oilskins, 
sou' -wester and sea boots, he groped his way 
for'ard. '' Have we made it too comfortable 
for yor down below ? " 



ON THE ROCKS 253 

" Didn't know that it was your ' trick/ *' 
remarked Barcroft. 

'* Neither is it. That's one of the penalties 
of serving on a destroyer. You never know 
when you're off duty. The skipper's just 
spoken through : we're on the track of a strafed 
U-boat. Picked her up by microphone." 

'' Here's to the bridge, then," decided Fuller. 
'' Come on, you would-be card-players. Let's 
see the fim." 

'' One of the advantages of going dead slow, 
I suppose," commented Tressidar as his guests 
rejoined him. '' We've cut across the trail 
of a submarine, that's certain. Come in, and 
see how things are progressing." 

The lieutenant-commander opened the door 
of the chart-room. Against one bulkhead stood 
the receiver of the submarine-signalling appara- 
tus. Standing in front of it was a bluejacket 
with both ear-pieces clipped to his ears. With 
his left hand he was alternately actuating the 
switch that connects both receivers. 

'* Right dead on, sir," he reported. '* Less 
than a couple of cables' lengths ahead, I'll 
allow." 

Behind him stood the helmsman at the 
steam-steering gear, his eyes fixed upon the 
cryptic movements of the operator's hands, 
as the latter transmitted the course to the 
quartermaster. 



254 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

The principle of the microphone signalling 
apparatus is simple enough. In the vessel's 
hold and as far beneath the waterline as possible, 
are two metal tanks each filled with water 
and containing two sensitive instruments that 
readily pick up sounds transmitted through 
the medium afforded by the sea. One tank is 
placed on the starboard the other on the port 
side, and both are connected by wires with 
the receiver in the chart-room. 

Supposing the operator hears the thud of 
a distant propeller, and the sound is more 
distinct from the port side he knows that the 
submerged vessel is somewhere in that direction. 
Conversely, the sound being greater in the 
right-hand receiver he is able to locate the 
object emitting the sound as being on the star- 
board side of the ship. When the volume of 
sound passing through both receivers is equal 
the operator knows that the vessel's bows are 
pointing practically '' dead on" to the unseen 
but audible peril. 

*' That's all very fine,'' remarked Kirkwood. 
" But supposing that man has a cold in one 
ear. How is he to guard against being misled 
by the inequalities of hearing ? I've heard 
of a fellow being deaf in one ear and not know- 
ing it for months." 

'* The inventors have taken that into con- 
sideration," replied Iressidar. ''i hat's why 



ON THE ROCKS 255 

both ears are connected with the receiver on 
one side only of the vessel at a time. As he 
turns that switch from side to side both ears 
are listening to the sounds from the port and 
starboard tanks alternately. \^Tiat's that ? " he 
added, addressing the operator. '' Three cables 
ahead ? This won't do ; she's gaining on us." 

The skipper quitted the chart-room, followed 
by the three airmen. Coming from the lighted 
compartment they were momentarily dazzled 
by the transition from artificial illumination 
to murky, pitch-black night. 

" Increase speed to fifteen knots,'' ordered 
Tressidar. '' WTiere there's water for that strafed 
U-boat there's enough for us. . . . Overhauling 
her ? All right ; twelve knots, then." 

*' Those fellows have plenty of nerve," re- 
marked Barer oft, '' or else they've no nerves 
at all. Suppose fog doesn't make the slightest 
difference to them when they are submerged, 
but to us it appears otherwise. X^Hiat is that 
U-boat doing, I should like to know, plugging 
along at twelve knots and in the direction of 
the British coast ? " 

" Keeping a pressing appointment, perhaps," 
said the A. P. with a laugh. 

" Many a true word spoken in jest, old bird," 
rejoined the flight-sub. '' It is " 

'' A little less talking there, if you please," 
interrupted Tressidar curtly. 



256 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

The three airmen took the hint. It was 
only on very rare occasions that the genial 
lieutenant-commander '* choked any one off.'* 
It was an indication of the mental strain upon 
the skipper of the '' Antipas." 

'' By Jove ! if she does come up/' thought 
Barcroft. '' It will be Third Single to Perdition 
for a set of skulking pirates. The fog is lifting, 
too. I can distinguish the wave-crests nearl}^ 
a cable's length ahead. We'll be into another 
patch in another minute, though, worse luck." 

Suddenly the watchers on the destroyer's 
bridge caught sight of a short series of flashes 
slightly on the port bow, and perhaps at a 
distance of a mile. 

In a trice Iressidar brought his binoculars 
to bear upon the ghmmer of light, thanking 
Heaven as he did so that a rift in the fog enabled 
him to spot the presence of the hunted Hun. 
The powerful night-glasses revealed the out- 
lines of a conning-tower and twin periscopes 
just emerging from the waves. Then as quickly 
as it appeared the light vanished. It was 
enough. The heutenant-commander could still 
discern the patch of phosphorescence that 
encircled the partly submerged U-boat. 

'' Starboard ten ! " ordered Tressidar, at the 
same time telegraphing for full speed ahead 
both engines. 

Before the destroyer could work up to her 



ON THE ROCKS 257 

maximum speed her knife-like bows rasped 
and bit deeply into the hull of the doomed 
unterseeboot. An almost imperceptible jar as 
the quivering vessel glided over her prey, a 
smother of agitated water on either hand, 
and the deed was done. Another of the modern 
pirate craft had been dispatched to its last 
home. 

'' Voices ahead, sir,'* shouted the look-out 
man. '' Land ahead ! By smoke ! We've 
done it/' 

The engine-room telegraph bell clanged shrilly. 
As the propeller blades bit the water with 
reversed action the ''Antipas" began to lose 
way. It was too late. 

With a shock that threw almost every officer 
and man to the deck the destroyer charged 
bows on to a ledge of rocks. Her forefoot 
Ufted almost clear of the water, while to the 
accompaniment of the hiss of escaping vapour 
from a fractured main steam-pipe, the '' An- 
tipas'' buckled amidships. 

'' Clear lower deck ! All hands fall in facing 
outboard ! " ordered the skipper. 

From the mess-deck the " watch below," 
already roused by the impact of the destroyer 
with the ill-starred U-boat, came tumbling 
out, forming up in orderly silence to await 
further commands. Out of the steam-laden 
stokehold and engine-room staggered black- 
17 



258 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

faced, partly-clad men, many suffering from 
the effects of terrible scalds, while others, too 
badly injured to help themselves, were assisted 
by their heroic comrades. Risking a hideous 
death in the partly-flooded engine-room the 
devoted ''ratings" performed acts of valour 
that, although unseen and unheard of, represent 
the acme of courage. Fresh from the over- 
heated stokehold and engine-room the survivors 
of the '' Black Squad " found themselves faced 
with the immediate prospect of involuntary 
immersion in the chill waters of the North 
Sea. 

*' Ahoy ! ** shouted a seaman at the skipper's 
instigation. '' Where are we ? '' 

'' 'Ard aground," rephed a voice through 
the darkness. 

In spite of their hazardous position several 
of the crew laughed, and tried to switch on a 
husky cough to hide their levity from their 
officers. The unknown's reply was certainly 
brief and to the point, but hardly the sort of 
answer that Tressidar required. 

'' Silence there ! " he ordered. 

Then a boyish voice penetrated the night air. 

** You're on Black Ghyll reef," it announced. 
*' Do you require any assistance ? " 

''Not at present," replied the lieutenant- 
commander. " You might stand by, though, 
in case we do/' 



ON THE ROCKS 259 

The after part of the '' Antipas '* was now a 
couple of feet beneath the water, and had 
settled on the sandy bottom of the bay. With 
the falling tide — it was just after high-water 
springs when the destroyer grounded — there 
was no immediate necessity to abandon ship. 
Nevertheless it was imperative that the injured 
men should be taken ashore, and assistance 
obtained as quickly as possible if there should 
be any possible chance of salving the wreck. 

'' Clear away the whaler ! '' was the next 
order. 

The boat was manned and rowed cautiously 
towards the shore. Although the sea was 
calm the men were in total ignorance of the 
nature of the coast. Lacking local knowledge 
they were not even at all certain whether a 
landing might be effected. On either side 
rose the jagged points of vicious-looking rocks, 
while looming against the misty starlight could 
be discerned a range of frowning cliffs with no 
apparent break in the Hne of continuity. 

'' Thank God that there ain't a stiffish on- 
shore breeze,'* muttered the coxswain of the 
whaler. '"Tain't 'arf a rotten crib.'* 

" Boat ahoy ! " came the same bo^dsh hail 
from the invisible strand. '' Starboard a bit. 
. . . You're close on the Double Fang. ITl 
tell you when to turn. . . . Now, straight in. 
It's all sand here." 



260 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

The whaler's forefoot grounded on the soft 
shore. The coxswain, producing a small hand- 
lantern from the stern sheets flashed it upon 
the group of figures gathered at the water's 
edge — four Boy Scouts. 

'' Crikey ! " ejaculated the coxswain admir- 
ingly. '' You're game'ims. Wot are you doing 
here at this time o' night ? " 

*' We're coast-watching," replied the patrol 
leader. '' We had just collared a spy when 
your vessel ran ashore. There's a chief petty 
officer of coastguard up the top of the clif ." 

The lad did not think it necessary to explain 
that the petty officer had rather wisely dechned 
to risk his neck by clambering down the precipi- 
tous face of the rugged wall of rock. At his 
age he lacked the steady head and sureness of 
foot that were essential for such feats of agihty. 

'' Landing's easy enough when you knows 
'ow," remarked the coxswain. '' I've been sent 
ashore to find out. Look 'ere, we've a dozen 
or more badly injured hands aboard, an' we 
wants to get 'em off. Any chance of carrying 
'em up those cHffs ? " 

The lad shook his head. 

*' Not up the cliffs," he explained. '' There's 
a path up the valley. It leads to Scarby.'* 

'' Any doctors there ? " 

*' None nearer than Tongby. We'll send a 
couple of Scouts there, if you Uke." 



ON THE ROCKS 261 

'* P'raps you'd better," agreed the man. 
"It's a tidy 'andful for our Pills — our doctor, 
that is. All right, chummy, you might stand 
by and give us a hail when we come ashore 
again, 'lis a rum crib, swelp me, if it ain't 
— ^but it might be worse." 

The whaler backed from the shore, to return 
presently with a heavy load of wounded men 
and other members of the destroyer's crew told 
off to carry the injured to the nearest house. 

Guided by the patrol leader the grim proces- 
sion set out on its journey of pain. The fear- 
fully scalded men, temporarily bandaged by 
the R.N.R. Surgeon Probationer borne on the 
destroyer's books as doctor, groaned and uttered 
involuntary cries of agony as, in spite of the 
care of the bearers, they were jolted along the 
narrow, uneven path. 

Presently the scout came to a sudden halt. 

'' There's a man lying at the foot of the 
cliffs," he exclaimed. '' Why, it's Pattercough, 
the man we were looking for when we captured 
the second spy." 

A seaman bent over the body. 

'' Dead as a bloomin' doornail," he announced. 
'* He's broke 'is bloomin' neck an' saved the 
'angman a job, I'll allow — that is, if he's the 
spy you says he was. Lead on, matey. The 
dead must look after themselves while this 
affair's under way." 



262 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

At the meeting of the path with the by-road 
the patrol-leader stopped. 

** It's straight on to Scarby/' he explained. 
*'Bennet/' he added, addressing his companion. 
'' You go with these sailors and show them 
the coastguard station. Then come back ; 
bring the other fellows along with you if they've 
returned. I'll go to the beach again in case 
there are more to be shown the path up the 
valley.'^ 

Meanwhile Lieutenant-commander Ronald 
Tressidar was ''standing by" his wrecked 
vessel. He had done everything he could in 
the interests of the crew. Until day broke it 
was impossible to form an accurate idea of the 
extent of the disaster. It was galling to lose 
his command ; there would be a court of 
inquiry. Of the issue of that Tressidar had 
no misgivings. The '* Antipas " had run ashore 
in the course of an action with an enemy 
submarine. The mishap was to be deplored, 
but it was unavoidable. The destruction of 
the hostile submarine had been accomplished. 
That was the object of the destroyer's raison 
d'etre. 

" Can we be of any use ? '* asked Fuller. 

'* Not in the slightest, thanks," rephed the 
youthful skipper. '' The best you fellows can 
do is to go ashore. Goodness only knows if 
there's a railway anywhere in the neighbour- 



ON THE ROCKS 263 

hood. At any rate, you can make your way 
back to Rosyth, and better luck next time. 
If by any possible chance I can keep you clear 
of the court of inquiry I will do so. I know 
perfectly well that you want to be hard at it 
again, and the ' Hippodrome ' seems likely to 
be particularly busy very shortly, according 
to all accounts." 

'* Good luck, old man ! " said Fuller earnestly. 

The three airmen shook hands with the 
skipper, and dropping into the whaler were 
rowed shorewards. 

'' Hard lines on old Tress,'' declared Fuller. 
*' He'll come out with flying colours, of course ; 
but just fancy the poor fellow cooling his heels 
ashore waiting for another command when 
out there '' 

And with a comprehensive sweep of his 
hand he indicated the seemingly limitless ex- 
panse of the North Sea — the arena where the 
question of naval supremacy will be settled, 
let us hope once and for all time in favour of 
the glorious White Ensign. 



CHAPTER XXIV 

entwistle's decision 

" So this is the coastguard station ? '' asked 
Billy Barcroft of his youthful guide. '' Any 
chance of getting a conveyance to the nearest 
station — Tongby, I believe ? ** 

'' I am afraid not, sir." 

'' Even this donkey might be pressed into 
service/' continued the flight-sub, indicating 
Butterfly, who, having been placed '' under 
arrest," was browsing on the green surrounding 
the flagstaff. " Although Fve had enough of 
donkeys to last me for some considerable 
time." 

Little knowing that the animal under discus- 
sion was the self-same one that had given him 
the slip at Barborough, Billy, accompanied 
by his two comrades, entered the detached 
building known as the look-out house. The 
ground floor was utilised as a kind of store, 
where arms and nautical gear were kept. 
Above was a large room furnished like an 
office, in which was a telephone as well as a 

264 



ENTWISTLE'S DECISION 265 

large telescope mounted on a tripod so as to 
command a clear view of the sea. Being night 
the windows were closely shuttered, while 
double doors prevented any stray beams from 
escaping into the night. 

'' Up aloft, sir,^' said the scout. '' I'll tele- 
phone through and see if a trap or a car 
can be sent from Tongby. This is our mess- 
room/' he explained. '' There's a good fire 
going. Hullo ! There's some one here al- 
ready. I think it's the gentleman who told 
us about the spy." 

Seated on either side of the roaring fire were 
Peter Barcroft and Philip Entwistle. The for- 
mer's face was turned away from the door, 
and at first Billy failed to recognise his parent. 
Nor did he the vet., for Entwistle's face was 
elaborately and liberally embeUished with stick- 
ing-plaster, as the result of First Aid on the 
part of the Scouts following their determined 
onslaught on the brink of the cliff. 

Entwistle had taken his grueUing in right- 
down good part. He was still under nominal 
arrest, for having been made a prisoner he 
could only be released at the order of a superior 
officer. Already a report had been telephoned 
through and a reply was momentarily ex- 
pected. 

'' I am not going to explain the whole business 
to you, Barcroft," said the vet., when Peter 



266 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

expressed his regret at the attack upon his 
neighbour, and still more so his astonishment 
at finding him under most peculiar circumstances 
on the cliff at Scarby. '' Some day, perhaps. 
I had information — no matter how — that some 
one was in traitorous communication with enemy 
submarines. To bring home proofs of the 
principal's guilt it was necessary to tackle his 
subordinate. Unfortunately my plans were up- 
set by the somewhat injudicious intervention 
of these youngsters — commendable as regards 
pluck and all that, but nevertheless it spoilt 
my investigations." 

*' I didn't know that you were in the detective 
line,'' remarked Peter. 

Entwistle shrugged his shoulders. 

'' Perhaps I had better not commit myself 
by answering your question," he repUed with a 
laugh that ended in a wince. It was no easy 
matter to smile with one's face smothered 
with sticking-plaster. '' I hope you understand 
my reluctance to say anything more on the 
matter." 

Peter nodded. 

''All the same I shall look forward to the 
time when you are able to emerge from your 
shell," he said. 

*' By the bye," remarked the vet, " you 
haven't told me what brought you to this part 
of the world. It's taking a one-sided advantage 



ENTWISTLE'S DECISION 267 

when I ask if you are doing a bit of detective 
work/' 

'* I was/' admitted Mr. Barcroft. 

Entwistle raised his eyebrows in mild sur- 
prise. 

*' Tracing the persons who stole my donkey 
— ^Butterfly/' continued Peter. '' I had the 
tip that the animal had been taken to Bigthorpe. 
Went there to follow up the clue, and strangely 
enough almost the first man I met was Norton.'' 

'' What was he doing at Bigthorpe ? " 

'' I hardly know. Said something about a 
nervous breakdown. He seemed a bit upset, 
I thought." 

** H'm ! " Entwistle gazed into the fire, deep 
in thought. ** Is he returning to Tarleigh ? " 

*' He's there already, I presume," replied 
Peter. " However, that has nothing to do 
with the case I am relating (Entwistle thought 
otherwise, but refrained from audible comment) . 
At Bigthorpe I found that Butterfly had been 
sold to a man at Scarby, so on I came. Quite 
by accident I met the fellow on the road, kept 
out of sight and watched him go towards the 
cliffs. Went and had a look at his cart, dis- 
covered it laden with petrol-cans, so I made 
off immediately to inform the coastguard. 
The rest you know." 

''As to that " began the vet. 

The door being opened interrupted his re- 



268 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

marks. Turning his head to see who the new- 
comers might be, he startled his companion 
by saying — '' Bless my soul, it's young Bar- 
croft." 

*' Hullo, pater!" said Billy in astonishment. 
*' You here ? This is a regular surprise." 

Peter got up from his chair. 

'' Pleased to see you, boy," he exclaimed. 
'* As for the surprise, it's nothing. To-day 
has been a day of surprises. What brings 
you ashore ? " 

'' We were in the destroyer that ran aground," 
explained the fiight-sub. '' But let me 
introduce you to Fuller — ^you've often heard 
me speak of him — and Bobby Kirkwood, who, 
as you know, was, and I hope will continue to 
be, my observer." 

" I thought you were in the ' Hippodrome,* " 
remarked Barcroft Senior, after mutual intro- 
ductions and when the three airmen had drawn 
their chairs close to the comforting fire. 

'* Officially we are now — at the present mo- 
ment," said Fuller. '' Unofiicially we are toast- 
ing our toes on dry land. Before long we hope 
to be up in the air ; I think I am correctly 
interpreting the wishes of my two energetic 
chums ? " 

Conversation was proceeding briskly when one 
of the Scouts, called to the telephone, reported 
that a car was on its way to Scar by to convey 



ENTWISTLE'S DECISION 269 

the airmen to Tongby, and that there was a 
train leaving the httle place at eight in the 
morning for Bigthorpe, whence by the main 
line to the north they could reach Edinburgh 
by about noon. 

" And this breaks up the party/' quoth 
Billy as the motor drew up outside the station. 
*' Well, good-bye, pater. Sorry time has been 
so short." 

'* Not so fast with your good-byes, my son,*' 
protested Peter. ''We — ^Entwistle and I — are 
going into Tongby by this car. It may be a 
tight squeeze, but we'll risk that." 

" But how about Butterfly ? " asked Billy. 

His father waved his hand deprecatingly. 

** I've done with the brute," he replied. 
'* She absolutely refused to greet me. I'm 
going to make a present of her to these young- 
sters as a kind of reminder of this night's 
work. If they don't want her, I suppose there 
are plenty of people in this village glad to keep 
her. Now, Entwistle, best leg forward. It's 
a long, long way to Tarleigh. By Jove ! you'll 
have to explain those scratches when you return 
to your virtuous home." 

PhiUp Entwistle merely responded with '' Yes " 
with a preoccupied air. His work in connection 
with the affair had only just begun. Although 
a veterinary surgeon he was also an accredited 
member of the Secret Service, and upon the 



270 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

soi-disant Andrew Norton's arrival at Tarleigh 
as a new resident he had been informed of the 
suspicious nature of the newcomer. It was 
by design that he had misdirected Barcroft 
in the matter of the wrong train on the eve of 
the B arbor ough ZeppeHn raid ; but that was 
owing to the fact that he had mistaken the 
occupier of Ladybird Fold for the suspect, von 
Eitelwurmer. 

Now arose the difficulty. Could he warn 
Barcroft of the dangerous character of the 
spy, without prejudice to his plans ? At 
present it was undesirable, even on the damning 
evidence he had found at the spy's house, 
to cause von Eitelwurmer to be arrested. 
Better to let the fellow prosecute his activities 
a little longer, complete the chain of evidence 
and rope in his accompHces, if any, than to 
make the spy a prisoner without being able to 
make a clean sweep of all his works. Premature 
action would mar the elaborate mass of evidence 
that Entwistle was on the road to collect — 
evidence that would be far-reaching as far as 
the network of German espionage in England 
was concerned. 

So for the present he decided to keep his 
own counsel regarding Andrew Norton. Not 
even a hint would he throw out concerning 
the tenant of The Croft. If he did so, Barcroft 
could not help showing antipathy to his friend 



ENTWISTLE'S DECISION 271 

Norton, and the latter, scenting danger, would 
be doubly wary. 

Yet, knowing that there was a price on 
Peter Barer of t's head, although he did not as 
yet connect Norton's presence at Tarleigh 
with the Kaiser's blood-moneyed decree, Ent- 
wistle reahsed that he would have to keep a 
watchful eye upon his newly-found friend in 
order to guard him from the possibiUty of 
imDending peril. 



CHAPTER XXV 

THE BOMBING EXPEDITION 

Off Zeebrugge once more. In the pale grey 
dawn of a November morning yet another 
strafing operation was about to take place. 
The Huns, who had converted the peaceful little 
Belgian fishing port into a hornets' nest, were 
to be allowed no rest. 

Approaching the coast, the undulating dunes 
of which were just visible against the pale 
Ught of the eastern sky, were eight monitors, 
their powerful guns cocked up at a grotesque 
angle in readiness to open fire at a six-mile 
range. At a considerable distance astern were 
the seaplane-carriers '' Hippodrome," '' Arena '* 
and " Cursus," while in a far-flung line ahead, 
astern and abeam, were the swarm of destroyers 
and patrol boats whose mission it was to 
promptly'' scotch" any U-boat that, more daring 
than the rest of the cowardly crew, might attempt 
to let loose a torpedo at the converted Hners. 
Already the Hun had learnt the lesson that it 
was almost a matter of impossibility to sink 

272 



THE BOMBING EXPEDITION 27? 

a monitor by torpedo, even though the weapons 
were '' set " to run only a few feet beneath 
the surface. Coupled with the knowledge of 
the fact that it was ''unhealthy" to be any- 
where in the vicinity of craft flying the White 
Ensign, when there were others proudly display- 
ing the Red Ensign and which were practically 
incapable of defence, the U-boats took good 
care to give the bombarding flotilla a wide 
berth. 

Already the ''Arena'' and "Cursus'* had 
dispatched their complement of seaplanes for 
the purpose of registering the result of the 
monitors' fire, but up to the present the airmen 
on board the " Hippodrome " had received no 
orders to board their respective "buses" and 
hie them to the scene of action. 

" They've opened the ball," exclaimed Kirk- 
wood, as the monitor on the left of the line let 
fly with her 14-inch gun. 

" An obvious performance," remarked Fuller. 
" Unless one were both blind and deaf. More 
to the point : why are we being held in reserve, 
I wonder ? " 

" Dunno," added another flying-officer. 
" In the case of you three fellows there might 
be a plausible explanation. You've been so 
jolly keen on getting away from the ship that 
the skipper won't give you another chance. By 
Jove ! That was a good one ! " 
18 



274 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

Somewhere in the vicinity of Zeebrugge a 
dense cloud of black smoke had been hurled 
himdreds of feet into the air. One of the 
British shells had found a particularly satisfying 
target, for either a petrol depot or an ammuni- 
tion '' dump '' had been sent sky-high, with, 
possibly, a few himdred Huns to boot. 

Yet no sound of the explosion could be 
heard, for the monitors' guns outvoiced that. 
The coast-defence craft were letting fly as 
quickly as the hydrauHc loaders performed 
their task, and the gigantic yet docile weapons 
could be trained upon the practically invisible 
objective. 

It was by no means a one-sided action. 
From cunningly concealed shore batteries, that 
seemed to multiply with hydra-headed persis- 
tence, German shells hurtled through the air, 
for the most part ricochetting harmlessly. A 
few, however, ''got home." One monitor, 
Usting badly to starboard, was aheady crawling 
slowly out of range. Another had been set 
on fire, but, the conflagration being quickly 
subdued, she *' carried on " with calm and 
awful deliberation. 

It had been one of the tenets of war that 
armoured ships were more than a match for 
shore batteries. The mobility of the former 
and the knowledge of the fixed position of 
the latter accounted for the theory — a theory 



THE BOMBING EXPEDITION 275 

that had been justified by the bombardment 
of Alexandria. But in the greatest war that 
the world has yet seen this idea received a 
rude shock. The skill with which huge guns 
can be loaded, ranged and trained upon a 
moving target rather more than equaHsed 
matters. Thus the old forts on the Dardanelles 
were quickly reduced to a heap of ruins by 
the guns of the '' Queen Elizabeth," but this 
did not prevent the Turks bringing heavier 
ordnance to bear upon the Allied squadrons 
as they attempted in vain to force the historic 
Straits. 

But there has been yet another swing of the 
pendulum. In an engagement betwixt ships 
and forts there was a deciding factor — the 
command of the air. Provided airmen from 
the attacking squadron could assist by observ- 
ing the hits of the naval guns and by dropping 
quantities of powerful explosives on the hostile 
batteries the advantage would rest with those 
who held command of the sea. Nor was mere 
observing and bomb-dropping on defended posi- 
tions sufficient. It was necessary to harass 
the enemy's lines of communication and prevent 
reserves of men and ammunition being rushed 
up to the coast. 

'' Ten to one we're down for a ' stunt,' " 
hazarded Barcroft. '' That's why we are cool- 
ing our heels here. Ah I I thought so/' he 



276 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

added, as the airmen were summoned to receive 
instructions preparatory to a flight. 

A quarter of an hour later Billy Barcroft 
felt like dancing a hornpipe on the quarter-deck. 
He had been given a task after his own heart — 
to bomb the German hangars at Lierre, a town 
about six or seven miles south-east of the 
fortress of Antwerp and a distance of eighty 
miles, as the crow flies, from the position taken 
up by the seaplane carriers. To Fuller was 
deputed the business of wrecking the important 
railway station of Aerschot, while the other 
pilots were likewise given definite instructions 
to drop their cargoes of explosives on specified 
places of mihtary importance. The airmen were 
enjoined to avoid as far as possible encounters 
with hostile machines on the outward journey, 
the importance of reaching their respective 
objectives being paramount to the excitement 
of aerial duels with Hun flying men. 

** We'll be within sight of one another most 
of the time, Barcroft, old man," said Fuller, as 
he signed to his observer to take his place in 
the machine. /' Now, Gregory, all ready ? '* 

Fuller's companion, a sparely-built sub-Heuten- 
ant, whose long, hooked nose and obliquely- 
placed eyes gave him the appearance of a bird, 
nodded assent. 

'' Well, good luck ! '' shouted Barcroft. 

The words were drowned by the roar of the 



THE BOMBING EXPEDITION 277 

engine, but the lieutenant instinctively realised 
their meaning. With a cheery wave of his 
gauntletted hand he started on his long flight. 

Thirty seconds later Barcroft got away, with 
Kirkwood as his observer. There had been a 
slight rivalry between Billy and Fuller as to 
who should take the A. P., for the lieutenant 
had regarded the latter as his own right-hand 
man since the night of the encounter with the 
Zeppelins, while Barcroft claimed priority. The 
matter had been decided by the spin of a coin, 
with the result that the A. P. was now on his 
way to Lierre with Barcroft. 

High above the bombarding monitors flew 
the powerfully engined seaplane, now nearly 
half a mile in the wake of Fuller's ** bus.'' At 
regular intervals astern came the rest of the 
aerial raiders, all rocking slightly in the dis- 
turbed air caused by the concussion of the 
heavy guns. 

Ten minutes were sufficient to bring Bar- 
croft's machine over the Belgian coast. Acting 
upon previous instructions he maintained an 
altitude of eleven thousand feet, at which height 
it was practically invisible from the shore, across 
which clouds of smoke and dust were slowly 
drifting as the British shells burst with devastat- 
ing effect upon the Huns' positions. 

No Archibalds greeted the raiders ; neither 
Fokkers nor Aviatiks appeared to bar their 



278 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

way. For the present the flight was nothing 
more than an exhilarating joy-ride. 

Once Kirkwood turned his head to watch 
the following seaplanes. Only one was in 
sight. The rest had already turned off for 
their respective objectives, and even that one 
was beginning to plane down towards a broad 
canal on which were dozens of loaded barges, 
their cargoes consisting of heavy gun ammuni- 
tion destined for the batteries of Zeebrugge 
and Ostend. 

For the present the A.P/s task was practically 
a sinecure. There was no necessity to use the 
wireless instrument : two hundred feet of trail- 
ing aerial wire is apt to be in the way during 
bomb-dropping operations ; besides, the raiding 
seaplane, not having to register for the guns of 
the fleet, could refrain from reporting progress 
until her return to her parent ship. So having 
made sure as far as possible that the bomb- 
dropping gear was in working order this time, 
and having fitted a tray of ammunition to the 
Lewis gun in order to be ready for use in case 
of emergencies, Kirkwood leant over the side 
of the fuselage and contemplated the country 
beneath; the features of which as seen from 
the air he knew better by this time than any 
of his native land. 

From Ghent Barer oft followed the course 
of the River Scheldt until the town of Antwerp 



THE BOMBING EXPEDITION 2?^ 

appeared in sight. At this point Fuller was 
observed to be turning away to the right. 
Both seaplanes were approaching their respec- 
tive objectives. 

'* Bestir yourself, you lazy bounder ! *' 
shouted Billy through the voice tube. " There's 
something ahead. Looks like a balloon. Get 
your glasses and see what it is.'* 

'* It is a balloon," declared Kirkwood after 
a brief inspection. '' A captive one.'' 

*' And right over the Lierre hangars," thought 
the pilot. '' What for ? There's nothing to 
observe from a belligerent point of view, unless 
the bounders are expecting us. It may be 
that the balloon is in use for instructional 
purposes. If so, I'll give the young pups cold 
feet, by Jove!" 

'' They've spotted us," announced the A.P. 
" They've begun to haul the thing down." 

''Then they are too late," added Barcroft 
grimly. '* Gun all right ? Stand by to give 'em 
a tray." 

Tilting the ailerons the pilot swooped down 
towards the unwieldy, tethered gas-bag. As 
he did so mushrooms of white smoke burst 
into view all around the descending seaplane; 
The German anti-aircraft guns were firing 
upon the British raiders. 

Barcroft held steadily on his course. He 
was quite used to shrapnel by this time. He 



280 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

knew, too, that soon the Hun gunners would 
have to cease fire for fear of hitting their own 
captive balloon. 

Aheady the German officers in the car of 
the balloon realised that it was impossible for 
the gas-bag to be hauled down in time. Three 
of them leapt into space. The fourth remained, 
grasping the edge of the basket-work and star- 
ing terror-stricken at the approaching seaplane. 

In spite of the tax upon his mental energies 
Barcroft watched the descent of the three. 
For nearly two hundred feet they dropped 
like stone, then they were hidden from his 
view by three umbrella-like objects. Before 
taking their desperate leap the Germans had 
provided themselves with parachutes. 

Apparently there was not one left for the 
remaining Hun. Suspended betwixt earth and 
sky he realised the horror of his position, until, 
seized by a forlorn resolve, he clambered over 
the side of the car and began to swarm down 
the wire rope that held it in captivity. 

It was hopeless from the first. In spite of 
the protection afforded by the leather gloves 
the metal wire cut into his palms like hot iron. 
Before the luckless German had lowered himself 
fifty feet his grip relaxed. Like an arrow he 
crashed to the ground, a thousand feet below. 

** Don't fire ! " ordered the flight-sub, realis- 
ing that if merely perforated by small-calibre 



THE BOMBING EXPEDITION 281 

bullets the gas-bag would fall harmlessly to 
earth. *' Stand by to drop a plum — now/' 

The A. P. jerked the releasing lever. As he 
did so Barcroft set the seaplane to cUmb steeply. 
Ten seconds later the bomb hit the balloon 
fairly in the centre of its convex upper surface. 
The next instant there was a vivid flash, followed 
by a crash that was audible above the roar 
of the seaplane's engine. Sideslipping the 
machine dropped almost vertically. Not until 
she had passed through the outlying portion of 
the dense cloud of smoke from the destroyed 
balloon did the pilot regain control. 

A hurried glance showed that the flaming 
wreckage of his victim was plunging earth- 
wards, leaving a fiery trail in its wake. It 
was falling upon the triple line of sheds in 
which German aeroplanes were stored. 

Like a swarm of ants the air mechanics scat- 
tered right and left to avoid — in many cases 
ineffectually — the gigantic falling firebrand. If 
Barcroft had any qualms concerning the fearful 
havoc he was about to create upon the throng 
of human beings he showed none. He re- 
membered those bombs dropped upon the 
defenceless civil population of B arbor ough. 

'* Let 'em have it hot ! " he shouted. 

At that comparatively low altitude there 
was little chance of missing the expansive 
target. The ground was literally starred with 



282 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

diverging jets of flame. The burning sheds 
collapsed like packs of cards, the debris bursting 
into a series of fires. In half a minute the 
hangars ceased to exist save as a funeral pyre 
to the mechanical birds that would never again 
soar through the air. 

A severed tension wire, one end of which 
cut Billy smartly on the head despite the protec- 
tion afforded by his airman's padded helmet, 
reminded the flight-sub that again the Archi- 
balds were having a chip in. The planes, 
too, were ripped in several places, while jagged 
holes through the sides of the fuselage marked 
the accuracy of the shrapnel. It was, indeed, 
a marvel that either pilot or observer escaped 
injury. 

Barer oft heaved a sigh of relief as the seaplane 
drew away from the shell-infested zone. In 
the heat of the bombing business his blood 
was tingling through his veins ; he was ex- 
cited almost to the point of recklessness ; the 
risk of being '' winged " by a bursting projectile 
hardly troubled him. But once clear of the 
scene of action he realised what a tight corner 
he had been in, and, although all immediate 
danger was at an end, he let the motors " all 
out " in desperate haste to gain a safe altitude. 

He found himself comparing the recent 
situation to a cat and dog encounter. So 
long as the feline faced the dog the latter 



THE BOMBING EXPEDITION 283 

generally contents itself by barking and making 
'* demonstration in force"; but directly the 
cat turns tail it tears away at full speed, its 
sole anxiety being to get away from its assailant 
for which, up to a certain point, it had shown 
contemptuous bravery. 

The flight-sub's thoughts were suddenly in- 
terrupted by Kirkwood shouting through the 
voice- tube. 

'' There's Fuller a couple of miles on our 
left," announced the A. P. ''What's more, he's 
tackhng three Hun machines." 



CHAPTER XXVI 

A FUTILE RESCUE 

Without a second's hesitation Barer oft turned 
the rudder-bar. Almost on the verge of side- 
slipping the seaplane swung round and headed 
straight for the enemy aircraft. 

'' Something wrong with friend John/' mut- 
tered the fiight-sub, ''or he wouldn't turn tail 
to half a dozen strafed Fritzes.*' 

Everything pointed to Bar croft's surmise 
being correct. Fuller's seaplane was in flight 
in a double sense. He had lost the superiority 
of altitude. His observer was replying to the 
machine-gun fire converging upon the fugitive 
craft from three different points. A hundred 
feet higher and about three hundred yards 
astern of the British seaplane was a large, 
double-fuselaged biplane. To the right and 
left but practically on the same horizontal 
plane were two Fokkers — a tough set to be up 
against, but in ordinary circiunstances the 
dauntless flight-lieutenant would not have hesi- 
tated to engage. 

284 



A FUTILE RESCUE 285 

Presently the British seaplane's Lewis gun 
barked. It was evident that the machine 
was running uncontrolled, as she was wobbhng 
considerably. Barcroft was now near enough 
to see what had happened. There was just 
time for a brief glance, for his plane was 
approaching the on-coming Huns at an aggre- 
gate speed of nearly i8o miles an hour. 

There was no sign of Gregory, but Fuller, 
abandoning the joy-stick, had climbed into 
the observer's seat in order to work the auto- 
matic gun. This he did so successfully that 
within five seconds of the weapon opening 
fire one of the Fokkers crashed earthwards, 
completel}'' out of action. Then the British 
gun was silent. 

This was all that Barcroft could see as far 
as Fuller was concerned. He had devoted 
all his attention to the double-fuselaged craft. 

While Kirkwood was letting loose a drum 
of ammunition from the Lewis gun Barcroft 
employed his usual tactics. He steered straight 
for his antagonist. If the gun failed to do its 
work in time, and if the Hun pilot's nerves did 
not desert him, the result would be a rending 
crash in mid- air as the two swift-moving craft 
collided. The interlocked wreckage, a mass 
of flame, would drop hke a firebrand to earth— 
a swift yet terrible death for friend and foe ahke. 
But Billy knew how the odds were against 



286 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

such a mutual catastrophe. The Hun, If he 
managed to avoid the stream of bullets, was 
not Hkely to '' stand up " to the resistless 
onrush of the British seaplane. 

Suddenly the double-fuselaged biplane nose- 
dived. Only just in time did Barcroft tilt 
the ailerons, for the seaplane literally scraped 
the tail of his vertically-descending foe. For 
nearly a thousand feet the machine *' plumbed," 
then hke a silvery dart it flattened out. 

" Old trick, Fritz,'* muttered Barcroft. '' Well, 
you've lost your altitude advantage. I'll renew 
your acquaintance later." 

The flight-sub knew that some minutes must 
elapse before the double-fuselaged machine 
could climb to renew the encounter. During 
that interval he had time to devote his attention 
to the remaining Fokker that, following Fuller 
with deadly persistence, was firing the while 
but receiving no reply from the British craft. 

Already Fuller was a couple of miles away. 
His antagonist was gaining slightly. It seemed 
remarkable that with such a prodigious outlay 
of ammunition the Huns had not succeeded in 
strafing their quarry. 

Suddenly Fuller's seaplane dipped. Bar- 
croft gave vent to an involuntary groan, but 
the next instant he wanted to cheer, for his 
chum had looped the loop two or three times 
and was now heading in the opposite direction. 



A FUTILE RESCUE 287 

'* I see the move," thought Barcroft. "He's 
luring Fritz towards us.'* 

The two seaplanes passed one another at 
less than a hundred yards. Fuller raised his 
arm by way of greeting as they swept by. As 
he did so shreds of canvas flew from the lower 
plane, and dipping abruptly the crippled machine 
dropped, lurching hideously as it did so. 

Almost simultaneously the Him pilot of the 
Fokker collapsed across the decking of the 
fuselage. The machine, no longer under con- 
trol, swayed through a distance of nearly a 
quarter of a mile, and then, tilting obHquely, 
began a terrific tail spin that ended in a 
jiunble of wreckage on the unsympathetic soil 
of Belgium. 

** Now for the double bus,'* muttered BiUy. 
'' The Huns will pay dearly for strafing poor 
old John." 

But the remaining aeroplane of the two had 
had enough, for, seeing the British seaplane 
swooping down to engage upon round two, 
she promptly sought safety in flight. 

Pursuit, Barcroft knew, was futile. Not 
only was the fugitive going in an easterly 
direction, which meant that had Billy held on 
in chase he would be lured further and further 
away from his floating base, but the Hun machine 
was more powerfully engined and possessed an 
undoubted superiority of speed. 



288 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

"By Jovel" shouted the A.P. "Fuller's 
planing down. He's got the old bus under 
control of sorts." 

The flight-sub looked downwards. A small 
rectangular patch of grey eighteen hundred 
feet down confirmed the truth of Kirkwood's 
statement. The injured seaplane was vol- 
planing in \\ide circles. Her pilot was about 
to make an involuntary landing. This, in 
itself, was a highly dangerous performance, 
as the floats were ver}' unsatisfactory' landing- 
skids. It was a hundred chances to one that 
the seaplane would bump hard and coUapse, 
pinning the pilot under the wreckage. Even if 
Fuller escaped with his hfe or without broken 
Hmbs, he was confronted with the additional 
danger of being made a prisoner. 

\\ithout a moment's delay Barcroft switched 
off the ignition and commenced a volplane. 
At least he would be able to discover w^hether 
his chum was able to make a safe landing. 
Beyond that — 

" Good old FuUer ! " almost yeUed the A.P. 
" He's spotted a canal. I see his move — artful 
bounder !" 

Running in a direction approximately east 
and west was a long stretch of artificial water. 
The straightness of its course showed that it 
w^as not a river. It w^as bordered on either 
side by a broad tow-path, wiiich in turn was 



A FUTILE RESCUE 289 

fringed by a line of poplars. With the exception 
of a string of barges being towed down by a 
small tug (and they were nearly two miles away) 
the canal looked deserted. 

It was for this expanse of water that Fuller 
was making. Provided there was sufficient 
width for the extreme breadth of his wing- 
spread and a margin to boot, there was little 
doubt of the experienced flight-heutenant's 
ability to make a safe descent. 

'* He's done it ! '' announced Kirkwood. 

''If he has managed it there is no reason 
why we shouldn't," thought Barcroft grimly. 
*' Stand by, old man ; we'll shove down and 
pick him up." 

The canal appeared to expand in size in 
order to meet the descending seaplane. It 
required all the skill and nerve at the youthful 
pilot's command to carry out his desperate 
plan. An error of a few feet to right or left 
meant irreparable damage to the frail craft 
and failure of his devoted efforts on behalf of 
his stranded friend. 

With admirable judgment Billy brought his 
*' bus " down, making a fine '' landing " on the 
surface of the canal at a distance of less than 
a hundred yards from the crippled aircraft. 
Then, drifting gently, the seaplane brought up 
alongside the bank, with one of her floats 
rubbing against the edge of the tow-patl^. 
19 



290 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

'' Nip out and hold her on, old man ! " 
exclaimed Billy. 

The A. P. obeyed promptly. Fortunately this 
required Uttle or no efort, for the thick-set 
though leafless trees broke the force of what 
wind there was. 

Barcroft quickly followed Kirkwood to the 
bank. Already Fuller had got ashore, and 
was preparing to destroy his machine when, to 
his utter astonishment, he had seen another 
seaplane skim over his head and alight at a 
short distance off. 

Running by the path Billy approached the 
lieutenant. 

'' Come along, old man ! *' he said hurriedly. 
*' There's no time to be lost. We'll give you 
a Uft in our bus back to the old ' Hippo.' '* 

** Thanks,*' replied FuUer coolly. *' WTiat's 
the hurry ? No Huns in sight. I'll do this 
job properly.** 

The odour of petrol vapour wafted to Bar- 
croft's nostrils. Fuller had allowed the spirit 
to escape from the tank, and was engaged in 
wrapping a piece of oil-soaked paper round a 
stone. 

'' No explosives left, I hope ? *' asked Billy. 

" None except the petrol," replied Fuller. 
*' That's explosive enough, I reckon, for this 
job. No, I dropped all my plums over Aerschot. 
Gregory's gone (s'pose you can see that for 



A FUTILE RESCUE 291 

yourself ?) ; shot through the head ; he gave a 
sort of leap — he wasn't strapped in, you'll under- 
stand — and flopped right over the fuselage." 

'' You've been strafed ! '' exclaimed Barcroft, 
for Fuller's quick sentences, coupled with the 
fact that he winced frequently, pointed to that. 

*' The child is correct," agreed the flight- 
lieutenant. '' Machine-gun bullet clean through 
the left arm. It stings a bit, but nothing 
much. No, don't trouble about it now. It'll 
keep. Now for a blaze." 

Striking a match he set light to the oiled 
paper and tossed the flaming missile into the 
fuselage of the doomed seaplane. With a rush 
of air and a lurid flare the petrol vapour caught. 
In an instant the machine was enveloped in fire. 

*' Good enough," declared Fuller, with an 
air of satisfaction. *' Hard lines on the old 
bus, though. She was a beauty. I was just 
getting used to her, too." 

'' Come along, old man," urged Barcroft 
again. 

Giving a farewell glance at the burning 
wreckage, Fuller turned reluctantly away and 
accompanied his chum to the waiting seaplane. 

*' We're going to pitch you out of your 
perch, my festive," announced the flight-sub 
addressing the observer. *' Fuller's tried to 
stop a bullet. He didn't succeed, and as a 
result the nickel's left a hole through his arm. 



292 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

Now, all aboard. We're lucky not to have a 
swarm of Huns about our ears/* 

Having assisted the wounded flight-lieuten- 
ant on to the float and thence into Kirkwood's 
seat in the fuselage Barer oft swarmed up and 
took his place at the joy-stick. 

Standing on the float and steadying himself 
by holding on to a strut, the A. P. gave a vigor- 
ous push with his foot against the canal bank. 
As the seaplane drifted towards the centre of 
the artificial waterway he clambered nimbly 
to the deck of the fuselage and, lying at full 
length, steadied himself by grasping the coaming 
surrounding his surrendered place. 

'' All right ? '^ asked Barcroft. 

The motor fired smoothly. With the engine 
throttled down the pilot taxied cautiously for 
a short distance, then increasing speed and 
tilting the ailerons he started to climb. 

At barely twenty feet from the ground a 
sudden and furious gust of wind caught the 
seaplane fairly abeam. Quickly Billy actuated 
the rudder-bar in order to turn the machine 
sufficiently to counteract the side-drop. 

It was too late. Swept bodily sideways 
the seaplane failed to clear the line of poplars. 
The left-hand planes struck a tree-trunk and 
crumpled like brown paper. The next instant 
the whole fabric crashed to the ground across 
the tow-path. 



CHAPTER XXVII 

FUGITIVES 

Bobby Kirkwood was the first of the trio to 
recover his scattered senses. The impact had 
hurled him violently forward, and cannoning 
off Barer of t's back he had shd more or less 
gently to the ground. The shock had forced 
Billy against the forward side of the coaming, 
well-nigh winding him, while at the same time 
his head came into contact with the framework, 
thus causing him to see a most gorgeous galaxy 
of stars. 

Well it was that the observer's body glanced 
off that of the pilot ; otherwise the A.P. would 
have been instantly killed by the swiftly-revolv- 
ing propeller. As it was he escaped by a 
hairbreadth. 

Fuller was not so fortunate. The sudden 
change of momentum had the result of crushing 
his already wounded arm, besides giving him 
a nasty blow on the forehead. He, too, began 
to wonder dimly whether he was witnessing a 
superb display of Brock's fireworks. 

293 



294 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

As Kirkwood regained his feet the wreckage 
subsided still more. The propeller blades strik- 
ing the ground were shattered to fragments, 
while the motor, released of its " load/' began 
to race with terrific speed. 

It was this nerve-racking sound that recalled 
Barcroft to a sense of action. Switching off 
the ignition he slid from the chassis and sur- 
veyed the scene of desolation. 

'' Come along, Fuller. Let's give you a 
hand ! " he exclaimed. 

Awkwardly the flight-lieutenant descended 
from his precarious perch. The two stood in 
silent contemplation for some seconds. Verily 
they reahsed that they were very much '' in 
the cart." Stranded in a country overrun by 
hostile troops, far from the coast — always the 
preUminary goal of a seaman who is making a bid 
for freedom — their chance of seeing the inside 
of a German prison loomed large upon their 
mental horizon. 

*' Let's get rid of the old bus while she's 
warm," suggested Barcroft. '' There's no pos- 
sible chance of getting her repaired sufficiently 
for even a short flight, and it won't do to let 
the Huns patch her up." 

'' Shoulders to the wheel, lads," exclaimed 
Fuller. *' One of mine's a bit groggy, but I 
feel like shifting a steam-roller with the other." 

By their united efforts the wrecked seaplane 



FUGITIVES 205 

was toppled over into the canal. The sudden 
contact of the cold water with the hot cylinders 
would, they knew, fracture the castings and 
make the motor useless until complicated and 
costly repairs had been executed — even if the 
Germans succeeded in fishing the debris out of 
the mud at the bottom of the canal. 

''Now we'll make tracks," decided Fuller. 
*' Wonder there aren't soldiers on the spot 
already." 

'* Yes, we'll make tracks," agreed Barcroft, 
" but not the ones you are keen on leaving 
behind." 

He pointed to the muddy tow-path and to 
the comparatively dry groimd on the other 
side of the row of poplars. 

" We'll walk backwards as far as the field," 
he continued. ''The Boches are bound to 
examine the footprints. If they see that 
they lead in the direction of the canal it may 
baffle 'em a bit. We must look sharp. I see 
the water faUing an inch or so." 

" But the canal isn't tidal," remarked Kirk- 
wood. 

" I agree,'* assented Billy. " The slight fall 
tells me that the nearest lock has been opened. 
That means a barge is on its way, and, much 
as I regret missing the sight of a Him cargo 
boat bumping on the wreckage of the old bus, 
prudence demands that we sheer off." 



296 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

Having walked backwards until they reached 
hard ground the trio set off cautiously. The 
country consisted of tilled fields — the work of 
impressed Belgians, forced by their taskmasters 
to cultivate the ground to provide foodstuffs 
for the Huns. The absence of hedges gave 
the land an unfamiUar appearance as far as 
the three British officers were concerned. What 
was of more pressing significance there was a 
lack of efficient cover, the only means of securing 
shelter being by keeping close to the trees 
that bounded the fields. 

'' There's a spinny of sorts in there," said 
Kirkwood, pointing to a circular cluster of 
bushes. '' I vote we make for that and repair 
damages." 

" And find ourselves surrounded by dozens 
of Boches," added Fuller. '' Naturally, once 
they found the wreckage of our machine they 
would search the nearest cover. We must 
make for those woods. What say you, old 
bird ? " 

*' Yes, and remain till nightfall," added 
Barcroft. 

The wood was nearly a mile away, and pre- 
sented an expanse of leafless trees extending 
nearly twice that distance. The depth of the 
wood the fugitives had no means of discovering. 

For the last four hundred yards the three 
o£&cers crawled and crouched, for the ground 



FUGITIVES 297 

was as flat aiid unbroken as a table-top. Away 
on the right could be discerned a red-tiled 
farmhouse, close to it a roofless barn, with the 
two charred gables standing up clearly against 
the sky. Further away was a village of con- 
siderable size, but in all directions there were 
no signs of human beings or of cattle. 

'' Thank goodness we are here at last,'* 
exclaimed Fuller, throwing himself upon the 
ground. " I don't want you fellows to think 
that Fm piling it on, but my rotten ankle's 
played Old Harry with me. Fractured it on 
a ringbolt on the ' Cursus ' at Harwich," he 
explained. '* Had six weeks in hospital, and 
thought it got fixed up all right, but it isn't." 

'' And your wound ? " asked the A. P. 

'' Pooh ! Nothing," replied Fuller unconcern- 
edly. ** That's a simple matter. If this ankle 
crocks properly, I'll make you fellows carry on 
without me. I can hang out a couple of days 
until you're clear and then give myself up." 

'' I'm jolly well sure you don't," said Barcroft 
firmly. '' We three sink or swim together. 
Think you'll be able to swarm up that tree if 
we give you a hand ? " 

The flight-heutenant eyed the gnarled trunk 
somewhat dubiously. 

'' Might," he rephed. '' I'll try, anyway. 
What's the idea ? " 

" To lie close until it gets dark." 



298 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

'* But why that tree ? It's on the edge of 
the wood. Why not go further in, where it's 
ever so much thicker ? '* 

'* Because if the Huns track us this far 
they'll naturally conclude that we've bolted for 
cover. They'll doubtless beat the interior of the 
wood and not pay much attention to the part 
nearest the canal. Besides, from this particular 
tree we can command a wide outlook without 
running much risk of detection.'* 

By the aid of their belts Barcroft and Kirk- 
wood succeeded in assisting the wounded officer 
to gain the lowermost branch. Thence it was 
a comparatively simple matter to climb another 
thirty feet. Here two huge limbs gave a toler- 
ably secure perch, wide enough to hide the 
fugitives from the sight of any persons passing 
underneath, and yet able to afford an outlook 
over a wide expanse of open country. 

'* Now let's look at that injured arm,*' said 
Barcroft, producing his *' first aid " outfit. 
" Slip his coat off, Bobby ; we don't want to 
cut that away. H'm ! clean hole, by Jove ! 
Iodine and gauze, old man. That's capital. 
I've morphia tablets here ; if you feel in 
much pain I'll give you half a one and no 
more. Can't afford to have your brain dulled 
bv morphia at this stage of the proceedings, 
John." 

*' Thaf 5 easier," said Fuller with a sigh oi 



FUGITIVES 299 

relief. '* Now if you'll be so good as to unlace 
my boot TU massage this low-down ankle.'* 

*' You'll keep still/' ordered Barcroft firmly. 
'' We'll do the rubbing business — if only to 
keep our blood circulating.'* 

*' Did you save your map ? *' inquired Fuller. 
*' I burnt mine." 

" Yes, I have mine/* replied the flight-sub. 
" I make it about sixty miles from the Dutch 
frontier — ^not much use making a shot for the 
coast, I take it ? " 

'' Phew ! Sixty miles — ^I did that distance 
once on a walking tour. For pleasure, mark 
you/' said Fuller. *' Plenty to eat, a decent 
show to put up at every night, and quite fine 
weather — and I had galled heels by the end of 
the second day." 

*' If we could sneak a captive balloon like 
you did at Sylt," remarked the A.P. '' That 
would be top-hole." 

''A bit of sheer good luck," said Fuller 
reminiscently. " That sort of dose isn't often 
repeated. Tressidar and I broke into a house 
and collared suits of mufti. That won't do 
here, though. We were on Danish soil then ; 
now we are in occupied Belgium. Caught 
and we are shot as spies, while the unfortunate 
civilians to whom the clothes belong would be 
strung up for assisting us to escape, whether 
they did it knowingly or otherwise. Time for 



300 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

more amateur burglar work when we're on 
Dutch soil. That's my opinion. You see, if 
we cross the frontier in imif orm we'll be interned. 
I remember " 

'' Look ! " ejaculated the A. P., pointing in 
the direction of the farmhouse. 

Making their way across the fields were about 
a hundred people, men and women, herded 
together in rough military formation and es- 
corted by grey-coated German infantry. The 
civilians were on their way to forced labour in 
the fields. Woe betide the luckless Belgian, male 
or female, who showed the faintest resentment, 
or lagged behind. Blows and kicks were ad- 
ministered with impartial severity by the brutal 
guards, while some did not hesitate to prod 
the helpless human cattle with the butt-ends 
of their rifles. 

'* And yet there are worms in England who 
cry out about the dilution of labour and the 
encroachment of the rights of the working 
man," remarked Barcroft. *' This is the sort 
of rights they'd get if the Huns once occupied 
even a portion of the Homeland." 

''Poor bounders!" exclaimed the A.P. as 
he fondled the holster of his revolver. *' Pd 
like to put a shot through that red-faced swine's 
head." 

*' You'd only make it worse for us and for 
them" said Fuller. 



FUGITIVES 801 

*' True/' assented Kirkwood, *' but a fellow 
cannot disguise his feelings in such circum- 
stances. One thing seems certain : the Boches 
haven't got wind of our presence." 

'' Don't know so much about that," said 
Billy. '' Unless I'm much mistaken there's 
a patrol coming this wav — and dogs, too, by 
Jove ! " 

In less than ten minutes (it had taken the 
trio an hour to cover the same distance) the 
patrol gained the field in which the Belgians 
were literally slaving. Apparently the crowd 
of workers disturbed the trail, for the blood- 
hounds, three massive-limbed, heavy-jowled 
creatures, no longer kept their noses close to 
the ground and followed the fugitives' track 
without the slightest deviation. Instead the}^ 
wandered round in circles, growling rather 
than baying, and showing every indication of 
having lost the scent. 

Followed a heated controversy between the 
Huns with the dogs and the Germans guarding 
the field labourers, until the latter, ordering 
their charges to assemble, marched them into 
the field next adjoining and nearer to the canal. 

Four Belgians, however, remained. These, 
after what was evidently a homily as to their 
behaviour, followed the patrol with the blood- 
hounds. 

The scent once lost took some time to pick 



802 BILLY BARCROFT. R.N.A.S. 

up again, but eventually one of the animals 
stopped at the foot of the tree in which the 
fugitives were hiding and set up a succession 
of low, deep cries. The other dogs, apparently 
on a different trail, disappeared in the wood, 
their keepers having all their work cut out to 
hold them in leash. 

'' One at least of the EngHsh swine is up 
this tree. Max,*' said a corporal, addressing 
one of the two privates with him. *' That is 
certain. The others have gone elsewhere. I 
wonder that they had the sense to separate." 

" We'll make sure of this one," said Max 
grimly. 

'' Ach ! That is so," agreed the corporal. 
" Here, Karl, you speak this outlandish lan- 
guage. Tell this fellow to cUmb and see if 
the EngHshman is there." 

Turning to the Belgian who had been com- 
pelled to remain with them, Karl spoke to him 
in Flemish. Being ignorant of the Walloon 
language Bar croft was unable to understand 
his reply. 

'' The fool says he is hungry and has not 
enough strength to climb," said Karl, translat- 
ing for the primary benefit of the corporal and 
for the secondary information of Billy Barcroft. 

^^Tell him," repUed the Hun, ^^ that he 
must go — and be quick about it. If he succeeds 
in finding the Englishman, then I will inform 



FUGITIVES 808 

the commandant and see that the fellow gets a 
double ration to-night. That ought to satisfy 
his hunger/* 

Lying at full length upon the sturdy branches 
the three airmen could distinctly hear the 
rasping of the Belgian's boots against the bark 
and the short sharp gasps that betokened a 
man obviously out of condition. 

The A.P. glanced at Barcroft and pointed to 
his revolver. The look indicated clearly enough 
what he meant. There were but three Germans. 
There were also three determined Britons all 
armed with revolvers. It would be an easy 
matter to settle the hash of the Huns and trust 
to flight before the rest of the patrol, alarmed 
by the shots, could arrive upon the scene. 

But the flight-sub shook his head. The risk 
was too great. Reprisals would automatically 
follow upon the luckless peasants, who were 
bound to be regarded as accompUces in the 
attack upon the three soldiers. 

Presently a pair of hands gripped the rough 
bark of the bough on which Barcroft was lying 
— long, lean, gnarled fingers almost claw-like in 
appearance. The next instant the Belgian's 
head and shoulders appeared above the rounded 
edge of the bough. 

For a brief second Billy's eyes met those of 
the cUmber. The fugitives were discovered 



CHAPTER XXVIII 

TRACKED 

At the sight of the lean, cadaverous features of 
the Belgian Barcroft had to exercise a tremend- 
ous lot of restraint to control his desire to utter 
some sort of exclamation. He had no wish 
to harm the fellow, who, as he knew, was 
acting under compulsion, with overt bribery 
thrown in. In fact he felt sorry for the man, 
whose pathetic eyes and drawn features por- 
trayed both hunger and misery. 

Yet in an instant the climber turned his face 
aside and resolutely hauled himself upon the 
branch on which Billy was lying. He was now 
in full view of the other officers. Fortunately 
neither of them spoke nor moved, yet the mental 
tension was acute. 

Standing upright upon the bough and carefully 
preserving his balance the Belgian outstretched 
his arm to grasp the branch above. 

'' The bounder doesn't want to take 
unnecessary chances,'* thought Barcroft. '' He 
wouldn't shout while he was only holding on 

304 



TRACKED 805 

by his fingers. Now he's able to get a firm 
grip in case he thinks we'll heave him out of it.'* 

But no. The flight-sub was totally wrong 
in his surmise. The man, deliberately ignoring 
the presence of the three fugitives, cHmbed 
still higher, until he gained the topmost branch 
capable of supporting his weight. 

Then, having leisurely scanned the surround- 
ing tree-tops, he shouted something to the 
Germans standing at the foot of the British 
officers' hiding-place. 

For a moment Barer oft and his companions 
were again plunged into the throes of suspense. 

'' The pig says that there are no signs of the 
Englishmen," interpreted Karl. 

" Donnerwetter ! " grunted the corporal. 
'' So much for the bloodhound, and Herr Major 
is ever boasting of what the brute can do. 
He's wrong for once at least, only I dare not 
tell him so. Tell the Belgian to come down. 
I'll soon send him up another tree a little 
further on." 

'* That's right," agreed Max. '^ Make the 
fellow work till he drops. If he breaks his 
neck there's one of the rabble the less." 

At the order the climber descended, as before 
paying no heed to the three officers. Upon 
regaining the ground he was marched off to 
make another ascent on a useless search. An 
hour later, having, as they thought, thoroughly 
20 



806 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

searched the wood, the patrol withdrew, cursing 
and gnimbhng at their ill-luck, since, it ap- 
peared, a reward of two hundred and fifty 
marks for the arrest of the fugitives had been 
offered. 

" A proper sport, that Belgian," said Fuller 
in a whisper, realising the wisdom of speaking 
in a low tone lest the Huns had left men to 
guard the woods. '* He could have given us 
away as easy as winking." 

'' Perhaps he'll inform the Boches now he's 
out of sight," hazarded the cautious A. P. 

*' Great Scott ! I hope not," ejaculated Ful- 
ler. '' In fact I'm willing to lay long odds that 
he won't. I'd like to meet that chap on the 
quiet again. I'd make it worth his while." 

^'So would I," added Barcroft. ^^ Well, 
this affair has done us a good turn. The Huns 
have evidently satisfied themselves that we 
are not anywhere in this wood. The coast 
will be clear for to-night. How's that arm, old 
bird ? " 

'' Feeling a bit stiff," repUed Fuller. '' The 
air's so confoundedly cold." 

'' It is a bit fresh," agreed Kirkwood. '' And 
probably it will freeze hard to-night. And 
your ankle ? " 

'' Can't feel any sensation in it," rephed the 
flight-lieutenant. '' The damage, if any, will 
assert itself when I place foot to gfround. What 



TRACKED SOT 

an ass I was not to have brought my Thermos. 
Full of good old hot tea, too. I left it on the 
bank, after the smash.'' 

'' You deserve a vote of censure for importing 
food stuffs into German- occupied territory, 
old man," said Barcroft. '' Can't you imagine 
a thirsty Hun mopping that stuff ? " 

" You speak for yourself, my festive," re- 
torted the flight-lieutenant. ** What did you 
do with your flasks ? " 

*' They went down with the wreckage,'* 
replied Billy. 

'' Yours, perhaps," said Kirkwood. '' My 
Thermos got smashed when we crashed. I 
heard the glass go, and I remember the hot 
liquid escaping and running over my gloves." 

*' Then you are all right for a feast," retorted 
Fuller. '' Goatskin soaked in tea, eh ? Sort 
of cannibalistic feast." 

'' Don't insinuate that I'm a giddy goat," 
protested the A. P. "It is like a case of — oh, 
dash it all 1 " 

Kirkwood' s exclamation was occasioned by 
the binoculars slipping from his benumbed 
fingers and falling to the ground. RoUing a 
few feet they lay in clear view — silent evidence 
to the hiding place of their owner. 

" Then you are a goat — that proves it," 
said Fuller. " Hullo ! What's the move ? " 

Kirkwood- slipping out of his leather coat, 



808 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

was already about to descend to retrieve his 
lost property. So far the coast seemed clear, 
for the Belgian labourers and their guards had 
moved to a field beyond range of vision. Since 
it was safe to conjecture that they would 
return to the farm buildings for the night the 
danger lay in the fact that they would almost 
assuredly spot the conspicuous binoculars as 
they repassed. 

The A.P. dropped after swarming down 
about twenty feet of trunk and alighted softly. 
His first care was to obliterate his footprints 
in the bare earth, for the ground surrounding 
the tree trunk was absolutely devoid of grass, 
and although sufficiently hard to withstand 
the impression of a person walking it was not 
proof against the impact of a man wearing a 
pair of heavy boots and dropping from a height 
of seven or eight feet. 

Then, crouching, he made his way towards 
his cherished binoculars. Just as he picked 
them up and placed them in his pocket, for 
he had left the sling case with his comrades, 
there was a rustling in the undergrowth. The 
next instant a huge dog, growling savagely, 
leapt upon him. 

The animal was of the lurcher breed — a 
type encouraged in the German army for 
various duties, including field ambulance work, 
guarding and tracking prisoners and drawing 



TRACKED 309 

machine-guns. Although smaller than the 
bloodhound it possessed greater swiftness, while 
its strength and ferocity were only sUghtly 
inferior. 

Luckily Kirkwood did not lose his presence 
of mind. Used to dogs, the experience he had 
had with playful canines would be turned to 
good account. 

Clenching his leather-gloved hand the A. P. 
let out with his left. His fist, taking the 
lurcher fairly on the point of the nose, sent the 
animal reeling. The respite was but moment- 
ary. Like a dart the dog flew straight for the 
young officer's throat. 

Kirkwood met the animal as it leapt in mid- 
air. His right hand, with its protection of 
the undressed leather gripped the lurcher round 
the muzzle, his fingers and thumb meeting 
inside the brute's wide-open jaws. Instantly 
the A.P.'s left hand grasped the dog's lower 
jaw. 

So far so good. The animal, unable to bite, 
attempted to shake himself clear. Foiled in 
this direction he planted his hind legs firmly 
in the ground and, giving his body a series of 
jerks, sought to pull the A.P. off his balance. 

" Shoot the brute ! '* exclaimed Barcroft 
from above. '' Risk it ! It can't be helped. 
Clap the muzzle close to the brute's hide." 

But Bobby thought otherwise. Even if he 



810 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

could afford the risk of letting go the dog's 
jaws with one hand and draw his revolver the 
muffled report would still be sufficiently audible 
to alarm the Huns. 

For perhaps half a minute he stood his 
ground, contenting himself by prising the 
lurcher's jaws apart. Then, slowly at first, he 
began to bend the animal's head backwards. 
It was a horrible yet necessary task — one that 
taxed the A.P.'s strength and endurance to the 
uttermost. Already he could feel the dog's 
teeth penetrating the gloves, and those saUva- 
streaming fangs meant trouble once they pierced 
the flesh. 

Yet the man was winning through. Back 
and back he levered the animal's head. The 
brute's breath was coming in short, irregular 
pants ; its blood-flecked eyes were almost 
bursting from their sockets. Still it struggled 
furiously, striving in vain to break away from 
the A.P.^s vice-like grip. 

^'By Jove! He'll never do it,'* thought 
Barcroft. "The brute's tiring him out." 

At the risk of barked shins and elbows the 
flight-sub descended from his perch. Gaining 
the ground he drew his revolver, wrapped his 
scarf several times round the weapon to muffle 
the sound of the explosion, and cautiously 
approached the combatants. 

Extreme care was necessary, for the lurcher, 



TRACKED 811 

driven to desperation, was turning his antagon- 
ist round and round. Kirkwood, his whole 
energies devoted to twisting the animal's neck, 
was unable to counteract the dog's movements, 
nor did the animal remain sufficiently still to 
enable Barer oft to plant the muzzle of his 
weapon firmly against its ribs. 

The end came with unexpected suddenness. 

With a distinctly audible crash the lurcher's 
vertebra snapped. Its body seemed instantly 
to grow limp. The sudden cessation of re- 
sistance caused Kirkwood to fall forward across 
the still quivering body of his enemy. 

Barcroft lifted his chum and set him on his 
feet. The A. P., now the duel with death was 
done, was as pale as a sheet and trembUng in 
every limb. 

*' I'll be all right in a minute," he gasped. 
*' Feel as ill as a seasick cat." 

'' Sit down," ordered Billy, and grasping his 
comrade by the nape of the neck he bent his 
head until it rested on his knees. 

'' Keep like that a while," he continued. 
'Til get rid of incriminating evidence. My 
word, what a lump ! " he added, as he lifted 
the dead brute by its hind legs. '' Half a 
hundredweight, I should imagine." 

Keeping the carcass clear of the ground the 
flight-sub carried it quite fifty yards through 
the wood before depositing it under a bush. 



312 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

This necessary task performed, he retraced his 
steps. 

'' Chirpy again ? " he inquired. 

" Quite/' repHed Kirkwood. 

" You look jolly warm," continued Barcroft. 

" I feel it." 

*' Then get a move on and swarm up here," 
interrupted Fuller's voice. '' Tm as cold as 
charity and could do with a human warming- 
pan." 

*' All clear ? " inquired Barcroft. 

''By Jove, no!" was Fuller's hurried re- 
joinder. *' Look sharp, you fellows. There 
are half a dozen of 'em coming this way." 

Making sure that they had left behind them 
no evidence of their presence the two airmen 
re-ascended to their lofty perch. 

'* You're steaming like an overworked horse, 
old man," said Billy addressing the A. P. '' I'll 
throw your coat over you. You can't sit up 
or the Fritzes will spot us." 

Trudging across the tilled land were eight or 
nine greatcoated Huns, armed with rifles. 
Two of their number were drawing a light 
cart. 

'' What's that for, I wonder ? " whispered 
Kirkwood, for the Germans were still a consider- 
able distance off, yet making almost in a straight 
line for the tree in which the three chums were 
hidden. 



TRACKED 313 

''Can't say," replied Fuller. ''I never saw 
Huns with a contraption like that before. 
Rations, possibly : they may mean to camp 
out here just to keep us company." 

The fugitives were not left long in doubt, for 
on arriving at a spot twenty yards from the 
edge of the wood the party halted and proceeded 
to don flexible metalHc masks with hideous- 
looking snouts. This done, the corporal in 
charge inspected each man's face-protection 
with deliberate thoroughness, while from a 
distance two Hun officers in the imiform of 
the Engineers watched the proceedings. 

'' By smoke ! " muttered Bar croft under his 
breath. *' They're going to have a shot at 
gassing us." 

At a brisk order the lid of the cart was thrown 
back revealing a couple of cylinders to which 
were attached lengths of armoured metalHc 
hosepipe terminating in elongated nozzles. 
First the cylinders were placed upon the ground 
and air pumped into them until the required 
pressure was obtained. Then each apparatus 
was strapped to a man's back, a soldier being 
in attendance to hold the nozzle. 

It was fairly safe for the three British officers 
to watch the proceedings since the height of 
the branch enabled them to look down upon 
the heads of the gassing party, while the latter 
could not look up owing to the straps that 



314 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

secured the lower portion of their masks to 
their shoulders. 

'' Reminds me of goblins at a panto/' thought 
Bobby. *' Wonder when they're going to 
start ? '' 

As a matter of precaution he tied his hand- 
kerchief over his nose and mouth, an example 
that his companions hastened to copy. They 
reahsed that it was but a sorry protection — 
useless against the full strength of the deadly 
chlorine, but sufficient, perhaps, to ward off 
the effects of a '' tail-end" of the poison-cloud. 

Weirdly fascinated the fugitives watched 
the proceedings. It seemed strange to witness 
the diabolical preparations for their intended 
execution. Dimly Barcroft wondered whether 
he would be conscious when he fell from the 
bough, or whether the gas would overcome 
him instantly. 

'' The first whiff and Til shoot,'' he thought 
grimly. ''I'd like to shatter the nozzles of 
those pretty masks and let the brutes have a 
good sniff at their vile mixture." 

A faint hiss betokened the fact that the taps 
controlling the discharge tubes had been turned 
on. Clouds of black vapour, eddying and 
seething, issued from the nozzles and rose 
sullenly in the cold, damp air. 



CHAPTER XXIX 

GASSED 

Something fluttered past the flight-sub's ear. 
It was a dead leaf. Whisked by a sudden 
gust it disappeared. Simultaneously the wind 
moaned dismally betwixt the gaunt branches. 

Hitherto the air had been heavy and still. 
Now, almost miraculously, a stiff breeze had 
sprung up, blowing in the direction of the 
infernal gas cyhnders, just as they liberated 
their poisonous contents. 

The rolling columns of vapour, forced back 
by the wind, hterally enveloped the hideously 
masked operators. More, the deadly cloud, 
keeping close to the ground, travelled at prodi- 
gious speed towards the two Hun officers, who 
hitherto had been thoroughly enjoying the 
proceedings. 

Quickly their brutal hilarity changed to an 
attitude of terror, as the death- dealing gas, 
spreading from the right and left of them, bore 
down at a rate exceeding that of a trotting horse. 

For a brief moment Barcroft had a vision of 

316 



816 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

two grey-coated forms, two pairs of heels in 
the air and two pairs of outstretched arms. 
Then the cloud hid them from sight. 

Already the operators, finding that the gas 
had been misdirected, had shut off the control- 
ling valves. But the mischief was already 
done. When the cloud had drifted away before 
the now steady breeze the German officers 
could be discerned lying on the ground and 
beating a frantic tattoo with their elbows and 
heels as the poisonous vapour tore their lungs. 

Aghaist the corporal watched his superiors' 
death agonies. While his men hastened to 
render aid — a useless task — the luckless non- 
com., tearing away his mask and liberating 
the poisonous vapour, held his face close to 
the hissing nozzle. Then he, too, dropped, 
writhing on the ground in mortal pain. 

Finding that the gas-masks impeded their 
action the men who gathered round the dying 
officers discarded their protection, since the 
fumes of the first discharge had passed far 
beyond the scene. But they had not reckoned 
on a repetition of the dose. Suddenly over- 
whelmed by the fumes that issued uncontrolled 
from one of the cylinders, five of the men were 
stricken down. The remaining few, who had 
not deprived themselves of their masks, made 
no attempt to check the outpouring cloud. 
They promptly fied. 



GASSED 817 

" By Jove, if the wind lulls we are done for ! '' 
thought Barcroft. *' A fellow wouldn't stand 
a ghost of a chance after a sniff of that stuff. 
Wonder how long the gas lasts ? '* 

A back eddy sent a faint tinge of chlorine 
over the prostrate trio. It was as much as 
Billy could do to restrain himself from tearing 
his handkerchief from his mouth and gasping 
for breath. Fuller coughed heavily, while the 
A. P. rose to a kneeling position. Had not 
Barcroft grasped him by the arm he would 
have toppled off the bough. Then came another 
rush of pure air and the danger was past. 

It was nearly twenty minutes before the 
apparatus exhausted itself. For nearly half 
a mile the track of the gas could be followed. 
The rich dark earth was turned a sickly yellow. 
Trees on the edge of the adjoining field were 
literally bleached by the corrosive vapour, 
while its effect upon the bodies of the victims 
of their own infernal contrivance was to make 
it difficult to distinguish between the colour of 
their uniform and that of their hideously drawn 
features. 

'' I vote we shift,'' suggested Barcroft. '' The 
Boches evidently have a suspicion that we 
are somewhere in this wood. It's positively 
not healthy to remain." 

'* I think otherwise, with due deference to 
you," objected Fuller. '* Granted the Huns 



ai8 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

imagine we are here. Those bloodhounds told 
them that ; but after this delightful fiasco of 
the gas-business they'll take it for certain that 
if we are here we've been done in. So it would 
be well to sit tight till dark — much as I want 
to be on the move." 

'* What is the effect of chlorine gas upon 
food ? " inquired the A.P. 

*' Rotten, I should imagine. Why?" asked 
Billy in surprise. 

*' Because there's food and drink down there," 
continued Kirkwood, pointing to the body of 
the corporal. '' These fellows, for some reason, 
are in heavy marching order. There's almost 
certain to be grub in his pack and I can see 
his water bottle. We can't afford to be too 
squeamish, you know." 

'' Don't fancy German tack steeped in 
poison," remarked Fuller. '' Although I feel 
as if I could eat almost anything. As for 
water — well, there's plenty of that about." 

'* And that's what makes me think that the 
fellow has something better than water in his 
canteen. At any rate, here goes." 

Giving a glance round to see that no one 
was in sight the A.P. again descended to earth. 
Gingerly unbuckling the dead soldier's knapsack 
he produced half a loaf of black bread, a tin 
of meat and a hermetically-sealed box that 
afterwards proved to contain biscuits. One 



GASSED 819 

sniff at the bread was enough. Kirkwood 
promptly replaced it and carefully rebuckled 
the straps of the pack. The man's water- 
bottle he risked taking. Unscrewing the cork 
he foimd that the bottle contained neat 
Schnapps. 

'' One teaspoonful only for you, Fuller/' he 
announced as he rejoined his conurades with 
the spoils. '' Raw spirit will play the deuce 
with that wound of yours." 

*' You are quite right/' agreed the flight- 
lieutenant as Barcroft proceeded to prise open 
the meat tin. Its contents consisted of tightly- 
packed sausages. *' For the same reason I 
suppose I must abstain from rich food. Give me 
a biscuit, you despoiler of the dead." 

Late in the afternoon another party of 
Germans arrived upon the scene, this time 
merely to collect the victims of the gas and to 
remove the instruments of retribution. 

'' Double patrols at all cross-roads to-night, 
curse it!" said one of the soldiers. ''Always 
more work. These Englishmen must be stiff 
by this time. Why send us out to arrest 
corpses ? " 

'' We don't know that the gas has settled 
them," replied his companion. '' Although it 
did the trick very neatly for Johannes Muller. 
I'm sorry for him. As for the ober-leut- 
nant '' 



820 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

He shrugged his shoulders expressively. Evi- 
dently the officer was a typical Prussian. 

''These English airmen played the deuce at 
Aerschot and Lierre," continued the first 
speaker. '' It will go badly with them if they're 
caught, but, as I said, it's my opinion that 
they are done for already. Double patrols on a 
night Hke this. It's as bad as the trenches 
at Ypres." 

'' Fortunately I am warned for the Golden 
Lion cross-roads,'* said his companion. '' As 
soon as the leutnant has made the rounds 
our party will make tracks for the cabaret. 
I am an old campaigner, Fritz.*' 

'' Ach ! Do not, then, get caught,'* cautioned 
the other as he slammed the lid of the box on 
the cart. '' It will be safe enough between 
midnight and two o'clock. Tve a mind to 
join you, only it's a goodish step from Quatre 
Vents.** 

''Where's the map? ** inquired Fuller, after the 
fatigue party had disappeared. "The 'Golden 
Lion' he said? That's it — le Lion Dore — it's 
marked here. Luck, boys ! It's on the way to 
the frontier. Roll on, eleven o'clock. Only six 
hours more. Why didn't we bring a gramo- 
phone, or even a pack of cards ? '* 

Slowly the leaden-footed hours sped. Dark- 
ness fell upon the scene. To add to the cold 
and discomfort a chilly rain followed the 



GASSED 321 

"piping down'' of the wind. The gnarled 
bough, rendered slippery with the moisture, 
was hardly safe. Its condition presaged danger 
when the time came for the three fugitives to 
attempt to descend the tree trunk. What 
was more there was every indication of the 
wet turning into ice. 

Even the airmen's thick leather coats and 
fleece-lined gloves afforded but scant protection 
against the rigours of the penetrating air. Again 
and again Billy consulted the luminous hand 
of his watch. Would the hour of eleven never 
come ? 

'' Why wait any longer ? " asked the A. P., 
his teeth chattering with the cold. *' We can 
make our way cautiously through the wood. 
We'll be a mile nearer to the Golden Lion cross- 
roads when we get to the other side. We'll be 
too benumbed if we stop here.'* 

"All right," agreed Barcroft. "Belts to- 
gether, lads. We'll lower you as far as we can, 
John. Mind that ankle of yours when you 
drop." 

It was an eerie business lowering Fuller 
through the darkness, but without mishap he 
alighted on the soft ground. Then having 
thrown down the water bottle and the rest 
of the provisions his two comrades rejoined 
him. 

" All right ? " whispered Barcroft. 

21 



822 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

" Right as ninepence/' replied the flight- 
lieutenant. '' Lead on, Macduff.'* 

Guided by a luminous spirit- compass Billy 
plunged into the wood, his companions follow- 
ing in single file. Already the rain had been 
sufficiently heavy to moisten the ground in 
spite of the protection afforded by the leafless 
branches. Here and there a dry twig cracked 
under their feet ; again and again they had 
to make detours to avoid thick-set under- 
growth ; once their progress was impeded by 
a knee-deep but sluggish brook, but without 
mishap the fugitives gained the remote side of 
the wood. 

Beyond all was dark as pitch. The sky 
being overcast even the starlight was denied 
them. Presently a lantern gleamed in the 
distance, its yellow glimmer lighting up the 
high-pitched roof and quaint chimneys of a 
tall building that had evidently escaped the 
ruin of war. 

Barcroft nudged the A.P. 

*'The 'Golden Lion','' he announced. 
'* And another hour and a half to wait." 



CHAPTER XXX 

THE BAIIN BY THE RIVER 

The distant light from the lantern glittered on 
the bayonets of the sentries, who, sheltering 
as best they might from the rain, paced stoHdly 
to and fro at the bleak cross-roads. Presently 
the gleam increased in intensity, throwing 
distorted shadows upon the gaunt poplars of 
the road-side. 

'' The lieutenant going the rounds, *' whispered 
Fuller. '' Fancy the fool taking a lantern with 
him. Wonder if he's afraid of the dark ? '* 

The quivering bayonets stiffened into im- 
mobility as the Hun officer approached the 
now alert sentries. The fugitives could just 
distinguish the guttural ' Wer da?' of the 
challenge, then an unintelligible exchange of 
words. 

The German officer and his escort moved 
on. The sentries, sloping arms, resumed their 
monotonous beat until the round had disap- 
peared from sight and hearing. 

Seemingly interminable minutes passed, until 

3^3 



824 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

just as midnight was approaching there came 
a low whistle through the darkness. 

'' HierT' repUed one of the men. 

'' All safe," rejoined the new-comer. *' Yes, 
both of you. What a night ! It's not fit for a 
dog to be abroad.'* 

*' Now,'' whispered Barer oft at the expira- 
tion of another long ten minutes. ** Ankle all 
right, old man ? " 

*' Quite," replied Fuller mendaciously. It 
was far from right, but the fiight-Ueutenant, 
game to the core, had no intention of letting 
liis chums know that every time he set foot to 
the ground excruciating pains racked him. 

Across the clayey soil, now almost knee-deep 
in mud, the daring trio literally floundered, 
their immediate objective being the endmost 
of a line of tall trees at a distance of fifty yards 
from the cross-roads. 

** Steady ! " cautioned Billy as the pave, 
glistening even in the gloom, became visible. 
''I'll push on and see that the coast is clear. 
Back in a brace of shakes." 

The trees cast sombre shadows as the flight- 
sub drew near ; rain, closely approaching sleet, 
fell in a steady downpour ; the wind had 
resumed its doleful whine. Altogether the 
climatic conditions were horrible. 

'' This is absolutely the limit," thought Billy, 
until his characteristic optimisra reasserted 



THE BARN BY THE RIVER 825 

itself. " Perhaps it's as well, though. The 
Huns don't like sticking it and have departed. 
A fine night and our risks would be greatly 
increased." 

He pulled up with startling suddenness. 
Less than ten paces ahead of him was a German 
sentry. Sheltering under the lee of the outer- 
most tree the fellow was actually looking 
straight in the flight-sub's direction. 

For several seconds Barcroft stood stock 
still, debating whether to throw himself upon 
the man or seek safety in flight. The sentry, 
his coat-collar turned up and his hands resting 
upon the muzzle of his rifle, appeared as im- 
mobile as if fashioned of stone. He was an 
oldish man. The flight-sub was certain of 
that fact ; more, he wore glasses. 

''A Landsturmer, and as blind as a bat," 
thought the young officer. " There were three 
sentries, then ; two have gone to the estaminet, 
the old boy is told to remain at his post. Now 
what's to be done ? Something, or Fuller and 
Kirkwood will be forging ahead to find me 
and then there'll be damage done." 

Very cautiously Barcroft began to back 
away from the unsuspecting Hun. The man 
coughed and hunched his shoulders still more. 
At the sound Billy again stood rigid, half ex- 
pecting the sentry to slope arms and resume 
his beat. Nothing happening, the flight-sub 



S2e BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

withdrew as silently and stealthily as the 
slippery state of the pave permitted. 

'' Well ? '' whispered the A.P. 

" Hist ! *' was Barcroft's only reply, then 
grasping his companions by their arms he led 
them back until they were well out of the 
sentry's hearing — even supposing that he pos- 
sessed the normal use of his ears. 

''A Boche over there/' reported Barcroft. 
" Nearly rammed him broadside on. BUnd as 
a bat ; a regular septuagenarian. We'll make 
a sUght detour and have another shot at 
crossing the road. It's open country beyond." 

This time the highway presented no difficulty, 
and with renewed vigour the trio struggled 
through the tenacious slime beyond. 

It was Barcroffs plan to keep to the fields 
as much as possible and follow the road on a 
parallel course. It W£ls infinitely harder going, 
but there was less risk of blundering upon a 
German outpost, while at intervals military 
motor-cars tore at break-neck speed over the 
slippery pave, their iron-shod wheels sUthering 
dangerously on the slimy stones. 

In almost total silence the dreary trek was 
maintained throughout the night, with the 
exception of two brief halts. Gamely Fuller 
*' stuck it," although his ankle was getting 
worse under the strain. His left arm, too, 
was throbbing in spite of careful bandaging. 



THE BARN BY THE RIVER 327 

yet no word of complaint came from his 
lips. 

At half past six in the morning Barcroft 
called a halt. 

" By dead reckoning I estimate we have 
covered twenty-five miles," he announced. 
** That's not so dusty. It will be dawn in 
another hour. We'll have to find a place and 
lie doggo until to-night. How's the victualling 
department, purser ? '' 

" I can spare a couple of biscuits apiece,'' 
declared the A. P. " And a small tot of 
Schnapps. You'll have to wait till lunch time 
for the sausage tack. I'm counting on a three 
days' basis, you know." 

** Very good," replied Barcroft approvingly. 
*' There is a hovel or barn ahead. We'll make 
for that." 

The outbuilding consisted of stone walls 
and a tiled roof, the latter in a state of dilapida- 
tion. The massive oaken door had been partly 
wrenched from its hinges. Within, the floor 
was of trodden earth mixed with lime. The 
place was absolutely bare. 

''Not even a bundle of straw," declared the 
A. P. '' The roof leaks like a sieve. StiU, it is 
better than nothing at all." 

*' The only place to hide in is under the 
rafters," said the flight -sub. '' Those two 
planks lying over the beams will serve that 



teS BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

purpose should necessity occur. I would 
suggest that we keep watch by turns — two- 
hour tricks. That will give each man four 
consecutive hours' rest. I'll take first trick ; 
you, Bobby, will relieve me and John will follow 
on. Now to bed, you roysterers.*' 

Fuller and the A. P. needed no second bidding. 
Rolling themselves in their leather coats that 
fortunately acted as waterproofs, and with 
their heads pillowed on their padded flying 
helmets, they were soon sound asleep. 

Taking up his post by the open door — ^he 
made no attempt to close it lest the fact would 
be remarked by people living in the district — 
Barcroft commenced his dreary vigil. Although 
bodily and mentally tired he knew that his 
comrades were more in need of rest than he. 
It was merely a case of "sticking it"; happy 
in the knowledge that the guerdon, in the 
shape of precious liberty, was twenty- five 
miles nearer than it had been seven hours pre- 
viously. 

Gradually, as the sullen dawn overcame 
the blackness of the night, the dreary landscape 
unfolded itself to the watcher's eyes — an ex- 
panse of flat country broken here and there 
with isolated buildings. Within fifty yards 
of the bam where the fugitives sheltered was 
a fairly broad river, that described almost a 
complete semicircle around the building. 



THE BARN BY THE RIVER 329 

" It's running north/' soliloquised Billy. 
" Wonder if it's the Aa ? Hanged if I can fix 
our position with certainty ! We've crossed 
five or six railway lines, and half a dozen small 
streams. Hang it all ! We can't be more than 
five or six miles from the frontier. By Jove, 
we are close to the road, though ! Wonder if 
that bridge is guarded ? " 

After a short interval a convoy of motor 
waggons thundered past. The A. P., roused 
out of his sleep, sat up. 

'' What's that — an air raid ? " he asked 
drowsily. 

'* No, only trafiSc," replied Billy. '' No cause 
for alarm. You've another forty minutes yet." 

A little later on a barge, quite eighty feet in 
length, manned by a couple of Belgians and 
towed by a miserably gaunt horse, descended 
the river. As it rounded the bend the cumber- 
some craft ran aground. Its stern, being still 
afloat, was swung round by the force of the 
wind and jammed against the opposite bank. 

At the impact, slight though it was, the 
hatch of the after cabin was thrown back and 
a couple of German soldiers scrambled on 
deck. One of them was smoking a long pipe 
with a bent stem. He evidently regarded the 
situation with philosophical stohdity, but not 
so his companion. The latter, cursing and 
reviling the luckless Belgians, danced like a 



S30 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S, 

madman on the sodden deck, till, losing his 
balance, he subsided heavily against the mas- 
sive tiller. 

" Bring the horse back, you swine ! " he 
shouted to the man on the bank. " There'll 
be trouble in store for you if the barge doesn't 
reach Wuestwezel by noon. Himmel ! What 
will Herr Kapitan say ? " 

Peering through a crack in the door Barcroft 
watched the proceedings. The German had 
mentioned Wuestwezel. Consulting the map 
the flight-sub found that it was a small Belgian 
village on the frontier, where in pre-war days 
a customs station was situated. 

For the best part of an hour the men strove 
unavailingly to extricate the barge from the 
tenacious mud. Even the two Huns condes- 
cended to assist in the operation but without 
the desired result. So interested was Barcroft 
in their frantic efforts that he quite overlooked 
the fact that it was time for Kirkwood to 
relieve him, 

*' You'll have to go to Hulstweelde and get 
additional help, you lazy dogs ! *' bellowed the 
infuriated Fritz. Then he said something to 
his companion, but speaking in a lower tone the 
words were unintelHgible to the young British 
officer. Apparently there was an argument 
in progress as to which of the two Germans 
should accompany the bargees, lest the latter 



THE BARN BY THE RIVER 331 

took it into their heads to decamp. Finally 
all four trudged off, leaving the horse to nibble 
at the scanty pasture on the bank. 

'' You rotter ! '' exclaimed Kirkwood. 
'* It's gone nine. Why didn't you turn me 
out ? And what are you so interested in ? 
Come, now, you were very keen on ordering 
me to turn in. Try this luxurious salle-d- 
coucher.'' 

'' Before I do so,'' replied Barcroft pointing 
to the abandoned barge, '' I'm going to do a 
bit of burgling if there's anything in the food 
line. Keep a sharp look-out, old man — ^towards 
that bridge especially. I won't be long." 

It was a comparatively simple matter to 
board the deeply-laden craft. Almost the whole 
of the space amidships was covered by huge 
tarpaulins, leaving a narrow gangway on either 
side. Making his way aft Barcroft boldly 
descended the short ladder leading into the 
cabin — a somewhat spacious compartment with 
the small " cuddies " on barges working British 
canals. 

'' Black bread and cheese," said the flight- 
lieutenant to himself. '' Well, that's better 
than nothing. Bacon, too : useless when one 
cannot light a fire." 

He had no qualms about despoiling the 
Philistines. Before the food would be missed 
the barge would doubtless have resumed its 



832 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

voyage. When the theft was discovered the 
Germans would to a certainty blame the men 
who came to their assistance. 

'' Wonder what the cargo is ? '' continued 
Billy as he regained the deck. 

Unfastening one corner of the tarpaulin he 
made the discovery that the contents of the 
hold consisted of bales of old clothes packed 
tightly and labelled in large lettering with 
typical German thoroughness. They were com- 
mandeered Belgian civilian articles of cloth- 
ing, those of cotton being kept apart from 
those of wool. Their destination was Aachen 
(Aix-la-Chapelle) via Wuestwezel, Turnout and 
Tongres, and at Wuestwezel they were to be 
transferred to the railway. 

'' I think I see the move," thought Barer oft. 
'' The stuff is to be converted into cloth for 
the Huns. The cotton gear, perhaps, will be 
utilised in the manufacture of explosives, since 
they cannot get the raw material. By Jove ! 
The very thing. Til collar a bale of this gear. 
We'll have to be in mufti of sorts when we 
cross the frontier, otherwise it means intern- 
ment." 

A low whistle from the barn warned the 
flight-sub to a sense of danger. It was too 
late. Riding at a steady trot along the river 
bank was a German officer. 



CHAPTER XXXI 

THE FRONTIER 

Resisting his first impulse to rejoin his com- 
panions Barcroft crouched upon the unsavoury 
bundles and drew the corner of the painted 
canvas cover over his head. In breathless 
suspense he waited. 

The clatter of the horse's hoofs ceased. He 
heard the rider dismount as his boots struck 
the ground. 

'' You there, Corporal Pfeil ? " he shouted. 
*' Donnerwetter ! what do you mean by getting 
your charge in this fix ? " 

Receiving no reply the German began cursing 
volubly, at the same time expressing his behef 
that Pfeil and Co. were dead drunk in the 
barge cabin and that those rascally Belgians 
had given them the slip. 

The fellow came on board. It required 
considerable effort on his part, for by the time 
he gained the deck he was puffing and blowing. 
As he walked aft his spurs jangled on the metal 
deck. So close did he pass the hiding Barcroft 
that the latter could have grasped his ankles. 

333 



g8i BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

'' Schweinhund ! *' exclaimed the major, 
for such was his rank. '' FU give Pfeil some- 
thing to remember this business. Confound 
this rain ! I'll wait for him in the cabin.*' 

He went below. Presently Barcroft could 
hear the rasping of a match, and the tantalising 
odours of tobacco from the after-cabin. 

'' Now I'm done," soliloquised the flight-sub. 
'* The penalty for inquisitiveness, I suppose. 
Properly dished unless " 

Seized by a sudden inspiration Billy softly 
threw back the corner of the tarpaulin, crept 
aft and closed the sliding hatch of the cabin. 
Before the astonished major could completely 
reaUse what was happening Barcroft had shut 
the massive metal hasp and had secured it by 
wedging a belaying pin through the staple. 

'' Shout as hard as you like, my festive ! " 
chuckled the flight-sub ; then he, too, realised 
that he had ** put his foot into it." Not only 
that — he had jeopardised the chances of his 
companions. 

Throwing a sack of clothing to the bank 
Billy leapt ashore, picked up the weighty 
bundle and made for the barn. 

He foimd Fuller awake, for Kirkwood had 
informed him of the danger that threatened 
the explorer. 

*' We were just coming to your rescue," 
announced the A.P,, ** only we saw that you 



THE FRONTIER 335 

had boxed the Boche up. What's this bundle 
for, old bird?" 

*' For to-night's fancy dress ball," replied 
Baxcroft. '' A suit of mufti for each of us. 
We appear in the characters of the Continental 
knockabouts." 

** What do you mean?" asked Fuller. 

'* Simply that we must make tracks at once, 
before Corporal Pfeil and Company return. 
Obviously we cannot hope to wander unmolested 
over the country if we stick to our flying kit, 
so with my characteristic regard for your 
welfare I have procured a stock of second-hand 
clothes for your inspection and choice. We'll 
push on for a couple of miles or so and then 
hide until it's dark. Then, with luck, over 
the frontier we jog, without running the risk 
of being interned by the Dutch authorities." 

The contents of the bag were emptied upon 
the floor — a weird collection of musty and for 
the most part dirty and ragged clothes. 

*' Must we, or musty ? " inquired Kirkwood 
sniffing disdainfully 

'' Both," replied Barcroft decidedly. '' Look 
alive. Pity to have to sacrifice our coats, 
though Mine cost me eighty-five shillings 
only a month ago. Keep your revolvers. 
They'll stow in the coat-pockets." 

The change of raiment was speedily effected. 
The discarded gear, folded in as tight compass 



886 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

as possible, was stowed away on the beams of 
the bam. 

'' WTio knows/' remarked the A.P., ''but 
that we may have a chance of recovering our 
kit, when the Boches have been driven out 
of Belgium ? My word, Billy, you look ab- 
solutely IT ! Tired Tim or Weary Willy must 
be your character." 

'' You speak for yourself, old sport," retorted 
Barcroft laughing. '' You're positively not re- 
spectable. We tolerate your presence only on 
sufferance. Matter of fact. Tired Tim does 
suit me," he added, stifling a yawn. ''I'm as 
dog-tired as a fellow can possibly be. And 
what might you be supposed to represent, 
John — a Belgian hare ? " 

" That's about it," replied Fuller languidly. 
" The main thing is to keep warm, and trust 
to luck to get a hot bath later. Some fit, eh, 
what ? " 

The flight-Ueutenant had appropriated a long 
cloth coat liberally trimmed with fur. In its 
prime the coat might have done credit to a 
wealthy bourgeois of Brussels, but now it 
would ill-become a city scavenger. 

The rest of the clothes were returned to the 
sack, with the addition of a couple of heavy 
stones. Barcroft and the A. P. carried the 
"incriminating evidence" to the river and 
hurled it into the water. 



THE FRONTIER 837 

" Don't suppose our boots will excite suspi- 
cion if we fall in with any one," remarked 
Kirkwood. *' It is impossible to say whethei 
they are black or brown." 

*'0r sabots," added Billy. ^^ Without ex- 
aggeration we are carrying half an inch of mud 
about on them. Now, easy ahead." 

Keeping clear of the highway, and following 
the river at a respectful distance the fugitives 
covered a distance of about three miles in less 
than a couple of hours. The rain was falling 
heavily again, blotting out everything beyond 
a distance of fifty yards, but by this time the 
dauntless trio regarded the discomfort with 
equanimity and as a blessing in disguise. 

" By Jove ! " exclaimed Fuller, suddenly 
coming to a halt. "There's the frontier." 

Before they were aware of the fact they had 
arrived within a few feet of the seemingly 
interminable barbed wire fence that separated 
occupied Belgium from coveted Holland. As 
far as could be seen the barrier was unguarded. 

'' How about it ? " inquired Barcroft. 
" Shall we make a dash and risk it ? " 

'' Steady," cautioned the flight-heutenant. 
'* Suppose, as is more than Hkely, there's a 
high tension wire running along that contrap- 
tion ? We don't want to be pipped on the post, 
you know." 

'' ITl test rt," declared Billy promptly. 
22 



838 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

'' How ? '' asked his companions in one 
breath 

'' By this/' replied the sub indicating the 
wristlet compass. '' You hang on here. I 
won't be long.'' 

^'Be careful, then," said the A.P. 

" Trust me for that," answered Barcroft 
cheerfully. '' Lie low and keep a sharp look- 
out." 

On either side of the fence was a belt of 
reeds and coarse grass. In ordinary circum- 
stances its height would be five or six feet, but 
the wind and rain had beaten down the reeds 
considerably. In places the tangle of grass 
was almost flat, and, combined with the sUppery 
soil, formed a trap for the unwary. 

*' H'm ! a fair amount of traffic on either 
side of the fence," commented Barcroft as he 
arrived upon the scene of his investigations. 
** They've had sentries patrolling up and down, 
but evidently they don't like the weather.'* 

Kneeling in the slime the fiight-sub unbuckled 
the strap that secured the little spirit compass 
to his wrist, then cautiously he held the delicate 
instrument towards the lowermost wire. 

The needle was unaffected, even though ne 
brought the compass close enough to risk a 
short circuit should the wire be highly charged 
with electricity. Three parallel wires he tested 
with similar results. At the fourth, which 



THE FRONTIER 339 

was about three feet from the ground, the 
needle oscillated. Whether it was owing to 
the deviating effect of an electric current or 
that he had unintentionally jogged the compass 
Barcroft could not decide. Withdrawing the 
instrument he waited for the sensitive index 
to come to rest. 

'' Dash it all I'' he ejaculated as he resumed 
his investigations. '' That wire is charged. 
It will mean a fine old job getting through this 
fence. Might squeeze through under the lower- 
most one if it could be prised up. But suppos- 
ing the electrified wire isn't always the foiu-th 
from the ground : what then ? I'll apply 
another test further along." 

So intent was the flight-sub in his work that 
he failed to hear the faint sound of footsteps 
stealthily approaching through the squelching 
mud. Entirely at a disadvantage since he 
was crouching on his knees, Barcroft was most 
disgustedly surprised to hear a guttural exclama- 
tion, the form of which left no doubt as to the 
nationality of the speaker. 

Turning his head Billy found himself at the 
mercy of a German sentry, whose levelled 
bayonet was within a foot of his shoulder- 
blades. 



CHAPTER XXXII 

AN AVERTED CATASTROPHE 

'' Morning, Norton ; you are an early visitor/* 
exclaimed Peter Barcroft. '' Five minutes later 
and you would have found me out — ^to use a 
contradictory phrase. I'm just off for a morn- 
ing with the rabbits. Care to come along ? '' 

*' Delighted," replied the spy. ''I suppose 
you won't mind my calUng at The Croft to get 
a gun ? " 

A couple of weeks had passed since Siegfried 
von Eitelwurmer's return to Tarleigh. During 
that time Peter had seen or heard nothing 
of Philip Entwistle. The soi-disant Andrew 
Norton had resumed his former habit of drop- 
ping in at Ladybird Fold at all hours, somewhat 
to the detriment of '' The Great Reckoning — 
and After," which was now approaching com- 
pletion. 

Von Eitelwurmer was trying to muster up 
courage to earn single-handed the reward offered 
by his Imperial Master for the obliterance of 
the man whose writings had so greatly offended 

310 



AN AVERTED CATASTROPHE 841 

the Potsdam Potentate who was seeking in 
vain for a place in the Sun. The spy had a 
wholesome dread of British justice should he 
bungle in the attempt and find himself under 
arrest. He had been told by the authorities 
at Berlin that he must not expect further 
co-operation by means of a Zeppelin. Evi- 
dently the rough handling the German aerial 
squadron had met with on the return journey 
had upset the hitherto implicit faith of the Huns 
in this branch of frightfulness. Since, then, 
von Eitelwurmer had no opportunity of getting 
Peter Barer oft conveyed to Germany, he set 
about a means to '* remove'' him. After all, 
he decided, half the reward was better than 
nothing. 

In his many conversations with Peter the spy 
never mentioned the subject of their meeting at 
Bigthorpe ; and Barcroft, putting down his re- 
ticence to a fear of being rallied on his mental 
lapse, studiously avoided any reference to the 
event. Nor did von Eitelwurmer say a word on 
the subject of the raid. In fact, he had never 
discussed the war with the tenant of Ladybird 
Fold, and had shown such a casual disinteres- 
tedness whenever Peter had touched upon the 
matter that the omission to say a word about 
the Zeppelin's visit to Barborough occasioned 
no surprise. 

** Haven't you a double-barrel ? '* inquired 



d42 BILLY BARCR0FT, R.N.A.S. 

Peter as the spy brought out a twelve-bore 
single-barrelled sporting gun with a breech 
action resembling that of a Martini rifle. '* If 
I had known I could have lent you one — a 
hard-hitting choke bore/' 

*' Thanks all the same/' replied von Eitel- 
wurmer. ** I'm used to this. I've got in two 
shots at a running rabbit before to-day. Where 
are you making for ? " 

" Over the moors towards Windyhill," re- 
pUed Barcroft, signing to the two dogs to come 
to heel. *' We'll cut through the Dingle DeU. 
It's a bit rough going, but we'll save a mile or 
so." 

The Dingle Dell was a narrow valley between 
two rugged cliffs of Millstone Grit. Through 
the defile rushed a foaming mountain stream 
fed by the recent rains and now possessing a 
tremendous volume of water. Centuries of 
erosion had worn the rocks that confine the 
torrent to its course to a remarkable smoothness, 
while the water as it leapt from one level to 
another had undermined the banks almost 
throughout the entire length of the Dingle 
Dell. 

Tarleigh Moors had been experiencing a 
variety of weather during the last fortnight. 
Following the heavy rain came a hard frost 
that in turn gave place to the first of the winter 
snow. Although most of the white mantle 



AN AVERTED CATASTROPHE 34S 

had disappeared, patches of snow still remained 
in the sheltered sides of the valleys, while in 
the Dingle Dell the trees still retained their 
seared and yellow leaves. 

Crossing a dilapidated wooden bridge the 
two men ascended a steep bank, on the top of 
w^hich ran a narrow path, slippery with the 
exposed roots of the abundant trees. On the 
left the ground dropped steeply to the foaming 
stream ; on the right was a ' ' cut ' ' or artificial 
waterway that supplied power to the neigh- 
bouring bleach-works, the smell of which, 
hanging about in the dank atmosphere, was 
the acknowledged drawback to the sylvan 
beauties of the Dingle Dell. 

'' I haven't been this way before,*' remarked 
von Eitelwurmer untruthful^. He knew the 
district far better than his companion, and 
perhaps his knowledge was equal to that of 
the majority of the inhabitants of Tarleigh. 
It was his business to acquaint himself with 
the locality of every place in which his secret 
service work had led him. *' Shouldn't care 
to walk along this path on a dark night, especi- 
ally after one of your ' night-caps,' Barcroft." 

" Yes, it is a sort of 'twixt the devil and the 
deep sea business," rejoined Peter. '' Steady ! " 
he added as the spy stumbled over a protruding 
root. " Gun's not loaded, I hope ? " 

*' Rather not," rephed von Eitelwurmer, 



844 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

pulling down the breech-block lever and holding 
up the weapon for his companion's inspection. 
" Tm used to a gun, remember." 

" You may be," retorted Barcroft grimly, 
"but these roots are not .... dash it all 1 " 

He sat down heavily, a patch of sHppery 
ground having been responsible for the mild 
catastrophe. His cap, falling from his head, 
rolled down the bank and finally stopped on 
the top of a rounded boulder on either side of 
which the water swirled furiously. 

'' The result of moraUsing," declared Peter. 
'' And I've lost my cap. Bang goes five and 
sixpence if I don't recover it." 

Resting his gun against a tree, Barcroft de- 
scended with considerable agihty till he gained 
the brink of the torrent. The two dogs, unused 
to the sight of their master on his hands and 
knees, capered behind him. To his disgust he 
found that the lost head-gear was just beyond 
the reach of his outstretched hand. 

He was not going to be done, he reflected 
stubbornly. By grasping the stem of a hazel 
that grew close to the stream he could lean out 
further without losing his balance. 

The stem seemed stout and supple enough, 
but unfortunately its looks behed its actual 
strength. It parted, and the next instant 
Peter w^as struggling in the foaming torrent. 

Flung against the hollowed water-course with 



AN AVERTED CATASTROPHE 345 

a thud that almost deprived him of the Uttle 
stock of breath left after his sudden immersion 
in the icy water, Barcroft was unable to make 
an effort to save himself from being swept over 
a miniature waterfall. Full six feet he fell ; 
then, almost blinded by the spray that en- 
veloped his head, he found himself struggHng 
in a small but powerful eddy, while the rocks 
that almost surrounded the pool were too high 
and too slippery to afford a hand-grip. 

Upon seeing their master topple into the 
stream Ponto and Nan leapt in after him, 
although Peter was then ignorant of the fact. 
Swimming ineffectually against the strength 
of the current both dogs were swept away, 
without being able to be of the slightest assist- 
ance, through a portion of the water course 
which, though only a couple of feet across at 
the top, had been worn away to four times 
that distance underneath. 

Meanwhile Siegfried von Eitelwurmer was 
stolidly contemplating the catastrophe. He 
saw the two animals being swept away, and 
marked the semi-subterranean channel. A man 
carried under those overhanging rocks stood 
little chance of escape. Even if Barcroft were 
able to resist the remorseless pressure of water 
that threatened to sweep him through the 
contracted gully the numbing effect of the 
water would quickly tell. Yet the luckless 



84« BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

man maintained silence ; not a cry for assist- 
ance came from his lips. 

From the path only the tip of Peter's head 
was visible. The spy still stood immovable. 
He had no wish for his unfortunate companion 
to witness his apathy. He chuckled with 
fiendish glee. Fate was playing into his hands. 

Suddenly a maddening thought flashed across 
his mind. Barer oft drowned — inquest — verdict : 
''Accidental Death." Would the German 
Government pay the blood-money in these circum- 
stances ? He doubted it. Being a Hun he had 
no faith in a Him's interpretation of the accident. 

It was not a sense of duty, the call for heroic 
action, that spurred von Eitelwurmer to the 
rescue. With admirably acted zeal he des- 
cended the decUvity, and followed the bank 
until he reached the pool in which Peter was 
still maintaining a precarious foothold. 

Grasping the benumbed man's wrists he 
exerted his full strength in an attempt to 
extricate him. The effort was in vain : Bar- 
croft, enciunbered with his saturated clothing 
and now too exhausted to help himself, was 
too heavy to be hauled into safety. 

''Run to the works and get assistance, '' 
exclaimed Peter, fancying that his supposed 
friend was in danger of slipping off the rocks 
into the swirling cauldron. ** I can hold on 
some time yet" 



AN AVERTED CATASTROPHE 347 

Thoroughness was one of the spy's character- 
istics. Having undertaken to rescue his com- 
panion he was not going to be thwarted if it 
could be helped. Glancing around he spotted 
a stout branch of a tree lying on the ground. 
Its length was more than sufficient to bridge 
the distance between the projecting sides of 
the stream. 

'' Hold on for ten seconds, Barcroft/' he 
exclaimed, and releasing his hold he made his 
way to the severed branch and secured it. 

''Hang on!'' he said, at the same time 
lifting Peter sufficiently to enable him to grip 
the span of wood. Then, pulHng off his woollen 
scarf, he leant over the edge and passed it round 
Barcroft's waist, slackening the "bight" until 
it sank low enough to go round his companion's 
knees. 

'' Now," he continued, '' together ! " 

With a steady heave von Eitelwurmer raised 
Peter's legs until his feet were fairly over the 
edge of the bank, while his head and body 
supported by the suspended branch were still 
hanging over the stream. So far so good. 
The German's next step was to shift the scarf 
until it formed a loop round Barcroft's shoulders. 
Another strong pull and the rescued man was 
lying safe but exhausted on the bank, while 
the two very wet dogs were frantically licking 
his face. The animals, after being carried 



848 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

down stream, had succeeded in finding a foot- 
hold, whence they had leapt clear of the danger- 
ous stream. 

" You've saved my life, Norton," said Peter, 
stating a perfectly obvious fact. 

'* It is nothing/' protested von Eitelwurmer. 

'' Perhaps, but it is precious to me," rejoined 
Barcroft, unable, even in his exhausted condi- 
tion, to resist the temptation of '' pulling up" 
his companion for a badly-expressed declaration. 

'' What I did, I meant, of course," added 
the spy. " How about your cap ? " 

*' rU have another shot for it," said Peter 
with sudden determination. ''If you'll hold 
my hand I'll reach it easily enough." 

'* No, you don't," decided the German firmly. 
*' I don't want the trouble of fishing you out 
again. Come along." 

Having assisted Barcroft to the path, von 
Eitelwurmer again descended, cut a short stick 
and deftly hooked the cause of the accident. 

" Here you are, Barcroft," he exclaimed, 
handing the cap to its rightful owner. '' Quite 
easy, you see. I suppose rabbit-shooting is 
off at present ? '* 

'' Until to-morrow," repHed the undaunted 
sportsman. '' At ten, sharp. You must have 
an opportunity of making up for what you 
missed to-day, Norton ; 'pon my word you 
must." 



CHAPTER XXXIII 

VON eitelwurmer's opportunity 

At eight the following morning Siegfried von 
Eitelwurmer was considerably surprised when 
the tenant of Ladybird Fold appeared at The 
Croft, booted and gaitered and carrying his 
gun. 

*' You are two hours too early, Barcroft,'* 
he exclaimed. " What is wrong ? Couldn't 
you sleep after your involuntary bath ? " 

He spoke jocularly, yet in his mind there 
was a haunting suspicion of doubt. Not that 
there was any reason for it as far as Peter 
Barcroft was concerned, although — did he but 
know it — Philip Entwistle was '' speeding things 
up'* in his work of investigating the case of 
Andrew Norton otherwise von Eitelwurmer. 

*' I slept soundly," replied the unruffled 
Peter. " Notwithstanding hot- water bottles 
and mustard poultices, cough-mixtures and 
various bronchial remedies. It's one of the 
penalties of being married ; but, 'twixt you 
and me, I like being made a fuss of in that 

349 



850 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

direction. Now, I wonder how you would fare, 
Norton, if you were taken ill, living practically 
by yourself? *' 

'' Make the best of it, I suppose,*' replied 
the spy hurriedly. He was an arrant coward 
where illness was concerned. '' But why this 
early call ? Thought you didn't rise much 
before nine ? " 

'' I had a note from the parson this morning," 
exclaimed Barcroft. *' I happened to mention 
that I was going shooting and told him that I 
would hand over the bag to the village soup 
kitchen. Personally I loathe rabbits as food. 
However, the vicar informed me that the soup- 
kitchen opened at eleven-thirty, and asked if 
it would be convenient for me to send the 
rabbits down by ten o'clock. Don't suppose 
we'll get back in time, but we'll try." 

" First get your rabbits," said von Eitel- 
wurmer banteringly. 

''Trust me," declared Barcroft with convic- 
tion. '' But are you busy ? I'm afraid I've 
interrupted you." 

'' Only catalogues of early spring seeds," 
repUed the spy. " They can wait till to-night. 
rU be ready in a couple of minutes." 

So saying the soi-disant Norton threw the 
books on the floor with feigned unconcern, 
re-corked a small bottle of lemon juice and 
pushed it out of sight behind a pile of sporting 



VON EITELWURMER'S OPPORTUNITY 851 

papers. Then, getting his sporting gun from 
the rack and stuffing a handful of cartridges 
into his pocket, he signified his readiness to 
start. 

*' I wonder,*' mused the spy as the two men 
walked briskly down the lane — '' I wonder 
what Barcroft meant yesterday : * You must 
have an opportunity of making up for what 
you missed to-day.' Very strange that he 
should say that. Yet can he know anything ? 
I have been careful enough, in all conscience." 

His fingers came in contact with the loose 
cartridges. Grimly he reflected that they were 
of English manufacture. Previous acquaint- 
ance with sporting cartridges coming from the 
Fatherland had made him chary of using 
ammunition of German origin. There must 
be, he reflected, no misfires. An initial failure 
would upset his nerve. He could not muster 
up courage to make a second attempt on the 
same day. 

*' You're rather quiet to-day, Norton," re- 
marked his companion, as the two parsed the 
scene of yesterday's adventure. ''Not feeUng 
quite up to the mark, eh ? Or have I turned 
you out of house and home too soon after 
breakfast ? " 

'' I wasn't aware that I was," replied von 
Eitelwurmer. '' In fact I feel remarkably fit. 
Those dogs of yours trained to the gun ? " 



352 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

" Quite, by this time/* said Baxcroft. '' And 
as for turning a rabbit out of cover they're 
great. You wait till we set to work." 

'' Powerful-looking animals," continued the 
spy. '' I suppose they would pull a man 
down ? " 

''They might,'' answered Peter cautiously. 
" But since an occasion for testing their capabi- 
lities in that direction has not yet occurred — 
and I hope it will not — ^I haven't any definite 
data upon which to base my assumption. They 
were a bit of a handful as puppies," he con- 
tinued warming to his subject, for the two 
sheep-dogs were practically part and parcel 
of Barcroft's existence. '' The predatory in- 
stinct was very strongly developed. They 
would go to my neighbours' houses early in 
the morning and systematically and deliberately 
steal the milk. I've known them to take a 
jug as well and bring it back unbroken and 
deposit it as a kind of trophy on my lawn." 

*' You might have cut down your milk-bills," 
remarked his companion. '' For a Biblical 
precedent you have the case of the prophet 
who was fed by ravens. I presume they stole 
from his neighbours. Were their efforts con- 
fined purely to the milk-business ? " 

'' Hardly," replied Peter. " In one instance 
they brought home a boot." 

'* Only one ? " 



VON EITELWURMER'S OPPORTUNITY 858 

*' Only one," declared Barcroft solemnly. 
'' It was in an almost new condition. I made 
inquiries all over Alderdene but without suc- 
cess. No one had lost a boot. Quite a month 
later I discovered that a parson living at Box- 
croft, a village three miles away, had missed 
one of his boots, and sure enough the one Ponto 
and Nan brought in was the missing article. 
Apparently they had walked into the parson's 
scullery, and finding nothing in the edible line, 
had picked up the boot as a souvenir of the 
visit." 

" They showed a total lack of common 
sense," said von Eitelwurmer. *'Now, if they 
had carried off the pair " 

'' I should have had to return two boots 
instead of one," added his companion. "But 
here we are. We'll work up against the wind 
and keep the dogs to heel." 

The sportsmen had gained the gently-sloping 
rise of Windyhill. It was the only side on 
which the ascent could be described as easy. 
The ground was grass-grown and interspersed 
with clusters of bushes, although the cover 
was by no means extensive. At the foot of 
the rise flowed a small brook, which was crossed 
by a single plank. Beyond a hedge — somewhat 
of a rarity in the North — through which was 
a gap with a stile. From this point to the 
summit of the hill, a distance of nearly a mile, 
23 



854 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

the only obstructions consisted of two rough 
stone walls running athwart the slope. 

** We'll load after we're over the stile/' 
said the cautious Peter. '' Be careful, there's 
quite a lot of snow under this hedge." 

Von Eitelwurmer's answer was to shp and 
measure his length in the soft snow. 

*' Donner — dash it all"! he exclaimed, 
hastily checking the natural yet hitherto care- 
fully avoided habit of forcibly expressing him- 
self in the language that came easiest to the 
tip of his tongue — that of the Fatherland. 
" You're right, Barcroft. It is confoundedly 
slippery." 

Picking up his gun that had fallen from his 
grasp the spy followed Barcroft over the stile. 
Here the two men loaded and Peter called 
the dogs to heel. 

'' Plenty of evidence that the bunnies are 
about," he remarked. ** We'll keep twenty 
yards apart. I don't suppose we'll catch sight 
of a rabbit until we get to the bushes." 

Stealthily and in silence the sportsmen ap- 
proached the nearmost patch of cover. Sud- 
denly a startled rabbit broke away and ran 
down wind. Up went Peter's gun, and the 
next instant bunny was kicking on the ground. 

** Why didn't you fire ? " inquired Barcroft, 
as the two converged upon the spoil. '' The 
animal was across your path." 



VON EITELWURMER'S OPPORTUNITY 355 

" Why didn't I ? " repeated von Eitelwurmer. 
*' I did. That was my shot. You didn't fire.*' 

'' But I did/' declared Peter. 

Both men ejected a still-smoking cartridge 
from their respective guns. They had fired 
simultaneously and the report had prevented 
each sportsman from hearing the other's shot. 

'' Honours even," cried the spy. '* It was 
certainly remarkable." 

'' Very," agreed Barcroft as he reloaded. 

The first enclosure produced no further 
trophy. Scaling the low wall the two men 
gained the second stretch of grazing land. 
Here the cover was slightly greater in extent. 

''That's a favourite warren," said Barcroft, 
pointing to an irregular line of bushes. ** You 
take the left side and I'll work round to the 
right. Ten to one you'll get a rattling good 
shot there. I'll keep the dogs with me." 

The sportsmen separated. Von Eitelwurmer, 
treading softly and crouching under the bushes, 
allowed three rabbits to bolt almost under his 
nose. It was not through preoccupation of 
mind but by deliberate intent. 

Once he stumbled over an exposed rock, 
and dropped his gun. 

''That's the second time. This snow is 
dangerous," he muttered with a curse. '* Is 
it an omen ? And on the last occasion I nearly 
gave myself away." 



856 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

He stopped to wipe some melting snow from 
the stock of his gun, wiping the walnut wood 
carefully in order to ensure a good grip ; then 
still crouching, he continued his way. 

Two shots rang out in quick succession on 
his right, then, after an instant, he saw Barcroft 
emerge from behind a bush and make for the 
next patch of cover. 

'' Twenty yards — absolutely safe, shots will 
hardly have time to spread," soliloquised the 
spy, giving a quick glance over his shoulder to 
see that there was no possibiUty of being 
overlooked from behind. 

Then, setting his jaw firmly, he deUberately 
raised his gun to his shoulder, took careful aim 
at the back of the unsuspecting Peter and 
pressed the trigger. 



CHAPTER XXXIV 

kirkwood's windfall 

*' So you've turned up again like three bad 
halfpennies/' remarked the Senior Officer of 
the base to which the ''Hippodrome" was 
attached, as the three airmen reported them- 
selves. *' Did you have much difficulty in 
getting across the frontier ? " 

'* Very little, sir," replied Fuller, who by 
virtue of his higher rank acted as spokesman 
for the trio. '' Nothing to brag about. Had 
a little bother with a sentry guarding the 
electrically-charged wire on the Dutch frontier ; 
but, while he was preparing to tackle Barcroft 
with the point of his bayonet, Kirkwood and I 
contrived to deal with him very effectually. 
The Hun, you see, sir, had provided himself 
with a combined hook and wire cutting arrange- 
ment with an insulated handle, and it came in 
jolly useful. That's about all, sir, and we are 
ready to rejoin our ship at the earliest oppor- 
tunity." 

'* I am afraid that's out of the question for 

357 



858 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

a week or ten days," replied the Rear Admiral. 
" The ' Hippodrome ' is away on special service, 
and I won't run the risk of sending you away 
on a destroyer, bearing in mind your previous 
trip for the same reason. The best thing you 
can do is to go on leave. You look as if a rest 
and a good feeding up will do you good. Should 
anything arise requiring your recall you will 
be sent for by wire, so hold yourselves in readi- 
ness for such a possibility." 

The Senior Officer shook hands with the 
three subordinates and the interview was at 
an end. 

" S'long, you fellows," exclaimed Fuller, when 
they were once more outside the Rear Admiral's 
office. '* Tm catching the twelve-fifteen to 
Town. See you later." 

*' What are your plans, old man?'' asked 
Billy, addressing the A.P. 

*' My plans ? I haven't any," rephed Kirk- 
wood, who, having lost his parents early in 
life, had no home but that represented by His 
Majesty's ships. *' I could go to my uncle's 
place, but I'm not very keen, and I fancy the 
sentiment is reciprocated by him, although I 
am his heir. He's a lawyer, you know, and 
about as musty as parchment." 

*' Then run up with me to Tarleigh," said 
Billy cordially. 

The A.P. was not one of those fellows who 



KIRKVVOOD'S WINDFALL 359 

affect a ridiculous hesitation when given an 
invitation. 

'' Thanks, awfully, old man,*' he replied. 
** I'm on absolutely. Is there time to look in 
at the Naval Club ? I expect letters awaiting 
me.'' 

" Right-o ! " assented Billy. '' By the powers, 
'tis good to find oneself in England after our 
little jaunt. Makes a fellow completely bucked, 
especially after a jolly good bath, fresh clothes 
and all that. Ugh ! Those togs we took from 
that barge!" 

" Coming in ? " inquired Kirkwood, as the 
pair arrived at the entrance of the Naval Club. 

'' No, not now," replied the flight-sub. '' I'll 
go to the post office and send a wire to let my 
people know we are on the way. I'll pick you 
up at the station." 

Barcroft had sent a telegram to his parents 
from the Hook of Holland announcing his 
safety. He had also gone to the post office 
immediately upon his arrival in England, but 
the place did not open till nine. It was now 
nearly noon. 

He had not gone more than a hundred yards 
when Kirkwood overtook him, flushed with 
excitement. 

''Here's a business!" he exclaimed. 
" Don't know whether to be sorry or glad. 
I've just had a letter informing me that my 



860 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

uncle, Antonius Grabb, has shuffled off this 
mortal coil. This is from his partner, who, 
apparently, is executor to the will. He wants 
me to call at his office as soon as possible. Billy, 
my festive, Tm afraid I'm a rich man. The 
thought of it appals me. I've handled thou- 
sands of Government cash in my time, but never 
had as much as a hundred to my credit before." 

*' Congrats, you lucky bounder ! " said Billy 
heartily. 

'' And so I have to run up to Town,'' con- 
tinued the A. P., '* there to face an interview of 
momentous import. Frankly I funk it. How 
about it ? Will you come with me ? We can 
put up at the Whatsname Hotel — ^you know 
where I mean — and take the first train in the 
morning to Tarleigh." 

''AH right," assented Barcroft, after a brief 
consideration of the proposal. '' We'll have 
to look sharp if we're to catch that twelve- 
fifteen. Here's luck — a taxi." 

*' Well, that is playing a low-down game," 
remarked Fuller as they rejoined him on the 
platform. ** Ycm two unsociables, decUning 
my invitation to run up to Town, have evidently 
hatched a plot to have a stunt on your own 
account. But I've spotted your little game, 
you sly dogs. Now own up — ^what's the 
move ? " 

'' We did change our minds," confessed the 



KIRKWOOD'S WINDFALL 861 

A. P. *' Force of circumstances, you know. 
Fuller, I'm a millionaire of sorts — in pence, I 
fancy. At any rate, my uncle Antonius has 
died, and we're off to see his executor. Come 
to his office with us ? The more the merrier, 
you know, and I'll stand dinner at the Carlton, 
if it hasn't been ' taken over.' " 

Arriving at Ely Place the three officers were 
ushered into the presence of Mr. Easly Gott, 
junior partner of the firm of Grabb and Gott. 

The lawyer regarded his callers with well- 
concealed interest. 

" Mr. Robert Kirkwood, I presume," he 
exclaimed addressing Fuller. 

*' Almost wish I were," muttered the lieu- 
tenant to himself as he indicated the rightful 
bearer of the name. 

** Ah, yes, of course," murmured Mr. Gott, 
re-adjusting his pince-nez. '' I can see a strong 
resemblance to your late relative, my esteemed 
partner." 

** That's not a compliment," thought the 
A. P. *' In fact, it is a downright perversion." 

The lawyer cleared his throat. Obviously 
he did not like the presence of three officers in 
naval uniform. His reason was soon apparent. 

'' Your uncle's will," he continued, '' is, to 
say the least, somewhat out of the ordinary. 
First let me impress upon you that its contents 
were absolutely unknown to me, his executor. 



862 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

until after his decease. He leaves the whole of 
his real and personal estate, representing a 
sum of at least seventy thousand pounds, to his 
nephew, Robert Angus Kirkwood '* 

*' Lucky dog!'' interposed the irrepressible 
Fuller. 

Mr. Gott gave a deprecatory cough. Levity 
was a rare emotion in that gloomy office, the 
motto of which in the vast majority of cases 
ought to be — ' Abandon Hope, all ye who Enter 
Here.' " 

'' Subject to one condition," he continued. 
'* My late partner, as you might know, was a 
man of pacific temperament. Here I must 
hasten to explain that the will is dated 1913, 
that is, a twelvemonth previous to the outbreak 
of this deplorable war, and there is no codicil. 
The condition is as follows : — That the said 
Robert Angus Kirkwood resigns his commission 
in his Majesty's Navy, otherwise the bulk of 
the estate goes to the Society for the Encourage- 
ment of the Discovery of Antediluvian Re- 
mains." 

** In that case," rejoined Kirkwood calmly, 
" I think you had better communicate with 
the secretary of the Society for the Encourage- 
ment of the Discovery of Antediluvian Remains 
and inform him that my uncle's legacy is at 
his disposal. I am rather surprised that you 
should have written asking me to call. The 



KIRIOVOOD'S WINDFALL 863 

proposition is an insult to His Majesty's 
Service/' 

'' You show the proper spirit, Mr. Kirkwood/' 
said the lawyer, with genuine admiration for 
the young officer's esprit de corps. ''It is a 
pecuHar will, and, if you desire to dispute its 
terms, you may be successful at the Courts ; I 
should be happy to undertake the case. How- 
ever, there is one clause. The bulk of the 
estate goes to this eccentric Society. The 
residue, consisting of deeds of real estates to 
the value of seven thousand pounds, goes to 
you unconditionally." 

The interview lasted about twenty minutes, 
at the end of which the three officers prepared 
to leave. 

*^By the bye," remarked the A.P., ''I 
suppose you can let me have a copy of the list 
of securities ? " 

^'Yes, a copy," replied Mr. Gott. ''The 
deeds will be handed over when probate of the 
Will has been declared. You will understand 
that the duties will be considerable ? " 

*' Lucky to have to pay 'em," commented 
Kirkwood. *' Thank you, Mr. Gott. Good 
afternoon." 

It was not until the following morning when 
Barcroft and the A. P. were speeding north by 
the 5.15 express on their way to Tarleigh that 
the flight-sub mentioned a matter that was on 



864 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

his mind — a delicate request the reason for 
which Billy could not very well explain. 

*' By the bye, old man/' he began "what 
do you propose doing with those deeds when 
they are handed over to you ? " 

" Hanged if I know/' repHed Kirkwood. 
*' Haven't troubled much about them. Simply 
carry on and make good use of the interest, I 
suppose. Seems a fairly safe investment, but 
personally I'd rather sell out and shove the 
money into the War Loan/' 

*' Are you willing to hand one of the deeds 
over to me ? " asked Billy. 

The A. P. looked at his companion in surprise. 

''Certainly," he replied. ''Didn't know — 
hang it ! — ^I'd no idea you were in need " 

" No, not that," interposed Barcroft. " A 
cash transaction, most decidedly. There's one 
• — originally belonging to a Mrs. Deringhame — 
I'm rather keen on having. Can't very well 
explain why, unless you insist upon an explana- 
tion, only I thought " 

"Don't worry, old bird/' said Kirkwood. 
"It's yours on your terms. I see by the Ust 
that old rascal Gott gave me that this particular 
document is included. That's settled, then." 

"Thanks awfully," said Billy gratefully. 
" Some day I'll be able to tell you why I wanted 
it. When do you think the business in connec- 
tion with your late uncle's will will be settled ? '' 



KIRKWOOD'S WINDFALL 365 

*' About a week, I should say/' replied the 
A. P. ''At any rate, if it isn't I think I can 
reasonably apply for an extension of leave." 

It was after nine when the two officers 
arrived at B arbor ough. Here they found that 
the next train on to Tarleigh would not leave 
for another hour and a half. 

'' There's no particular hurry," remarked 
Billy. " But, all the same, I don't see why we 
should cool our heels in this draughty show. 
I vote we walk." 

He could not help wondering why his father 
had not been waiting for him on the platform. 
Perhaps he was even now on his way with the 
car — that wretched magneto ought to be re- 
paired by this time. 

" I'm on," assented the A. P. " How about 
our gear ? We can't lug it those five or six 
miles." 

" Hanged if I haven't overlooked that prob- 
lem," said Barcroft. " Let's take a taxi." 

The taxi deposited the two chums at the 
door of Ladybird Fold at precisely the same 
moment that a telegraph boy was delivering a 
couple of telegrams. 

"You did look awfully surprised to see us, 
mother," remarked Billy after the preUminary 
exchange of greetings. " This is my great 
pal, Kirkwood — Billy Kirkwood. You've heard 
me mention him many a time." 



866 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

"Of course we axe delighted to see you, 
Mr. Kirkwood/' said Mrs. Barcroft. *' It is, 
as Billy says, a surprise." 

'' But didn't you get my wire ? '* asked the 
flight-sub. 

*' I suppose it is one of these/' remarked his 
mother, opening one of the envelopes. 

She read the contents, a puzzled expression 
on her face. Then, without a word she handed 
it to her son. 

*' Silly asses ! '* exclaimed Billy, for the wire 
was from the Admiralty expressing regret that 
FHght-sub-lieutenant William Barcroft was 
reported missing. *' However, it doesn't much 
matter now. Would have been awkward if 
we weren't here to show that it's a mistake. 
Look here — handed in three days ago. Delayed 
in transmission. Didn't you get my wire 
from Holland ? " 

Mrs. Barcroft shook her head. 

*' I gave that rascally hotel porter a couple 
of gulder to take the telegraph form to the 
post-office,'' declared the flight-sub. '' Ten to 
one he stuck to the tip and the money for the 
wire as well. Where's the governor ? " 

'* He went out early this morning with Mr. 
Norton," replied Mrs. Barcroft. 

'' The fellow who got adrift on the night of 
the Zep. raid ? He turned up all right after all, 
then. \\ here have they gone ? " 



KIRKWOOD'S WINDFALL 867 

" Towards Windyhill. They went rabbit- 
shooting/' 

'' Windyhill ? Where's that, mater ? '' asked 
Billy. ** We may as well stroll over that way, 
Bobby. No, thanks, mater, we don't require 
any lunch at present. Had second breakfast 
on the train. You can hang out till one 
o'clock, my festive ? " 

'' Rather," declared the A.P. '' Let's go and 
meet Mr. Barcroft and help carryback the spoils." 

Receiving directions from Mrs. Barcroft the 
two chums set off on their quest. Half way 
down the lane leading to the Dingle Dell they 
suddenly encountered Philip Entwistle. 

'' Mornin'," said Billy with a laugh. '' How 
are you ? Recovered from that donkey-trip 
of ours yet ? " 

*' Quite — absolutely," repUed Entwistle. 
" So you are on leave again ? I'm glad — ^very 
glad. There's a little matter upon which I 
should like to speak." 

He paused and glanced inquiringly at Billy's 
companion. The A.P. discreetly began to walk 
on. 

" I say, Kirkwood," called out the flight -sub. 
*' Let me introduce you." 

*' So you are the man who was flying with 
our friend here when the German airman who 
bombed Alderdene was strafed," said Entwistle, 
after the introduction was made. 



368 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

'* I believe I had a hand in it/' admitted 
Kirkwood. 

'' That was when the document setting a 
price on your father's head was discovered, 
Barcroft/' continued the vet. 

*' I say — ^how did you know that ? *' asked 
Billy. " Funny how things like that leak out.'* 

'' It's part of my business," repUed Entwistle 
gravely. '' That is the matter on which I 
wish to speak to you, and since Mr. Kirkwood 
is ' in the know ' up to a certain point I do not 
see any reason why he should not be admitted 
into our conference. First of all, let me say 
that for the present I must get you to promise 
not to say a word to your father, or in fact to 
any one concerning what I am about to divulge." 

The two officers gave the required promise. 

*' It concerns Andrew Norton," continued 
Entwistle. ''He is a secret agent of the 
German Government. On the night of the 
Barborough raid he had planned to have your 
parent made prisoner by the crew of the Zep- 
pehn. Unfortunately for him his plans went 
adrift, and, as a result, he himself was kidnapped 
and taken to Germany." 

'' How on earth do you know this ? " asked 
Billy incredulously. 

'' From definite and unimpeachable m- 
formation," replied Entwistle. "I am — 
this is of course strictly confidential — also a 



KIRKWOOD'S WINDFALL 869 

Secret Service man, belonging to an opposition 
show. In due course— we have been giving 
him a good amount of rope — friend Norton 
will be arrested." 

*' But why cannot the governor be in- 
formed ? " was Billy's next question. 

Philip Entwistle smiled. 

''Your father is — well, too imaginative, and, 
perhaps, a little too impulsive. I don't think 
he would believe me at first, if I were to broach 
the subject. He would, I feel incUned to 
think, even start bantering friend Norton." 

'' Yes, perhaps he might," admitted young 
Barcroft. 

'' And so I am just off to the house to see 
your father," continued Entwistle. " There 
are one or two questions I want to ask him, 
indirectly put but directly bearing upon the 
Norton case." 

'* 'Fraid you won't find him there," re- 
marked Billy. '' He's gone rabbit-shooting 
with the man under discussion." 

'' With Andrew Norton ? " asked Entwistle 
anxiously, then — ^gripping the fiight-sub's arm — 
*' Where, man, where ? We must find him at 
once." 

The three set out at a rapid pace through 

the Dingle Dell. The Secret Service man's 

hand went to his hip pocket, his fingers coming 

in contact with the butt of a small but powerful 

24* 



870 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

automatic pistol. For more than two years 
the weapon had been Entwistle's constant 
companion, yet no one, not even his personal 
friends, were aware of the fact. 

** Thought Barcroft would speed things up 
a bit,'' he soliloquised. '' Going rabbitting 
with that beauty has done it. Wonder if we 
are too late ? '* 

Somewhat breathless in spite of their fine 
physical condition the trio arrived at the foot 
of Windyhill. As they crossed the stile two 
shots rang out in quick succession. 

'* They're up there," announced Billy, point- 
ing to the second field. '' I saw some one 
moving to the right of that clump of bushes." 

Over the stone wall the men scrambled. As 
they did so a single report, more of a crash than 
the sharp, short detonation of a charge of 
smokeless powder, came from behind the gorse, 
followed by a scream of agony that trailed off 
into a long-drawn groan. 

'* Good heavens ! " exclaimed Billy, spurting 
ahead of his companions. 

Rounding the patch of cover he came upon 
the scene of the tragedy. Lying at full length 
upon the grass was a man ; over him, with his 
back turned towards the new arrivals, was 
another — Peter Barcroft. 



CHAPTER XXXV 

ONE CARTRIDGE LEFT 

" An accident," declared Peter confusedly. 
The appalling event had completely unnerved 
him. He hardly seemed to reaUse that his 
son had turned up at a most opportune moment. 
'' An accident. His gun burst, goodness only 
knows why. By Jove, he'll bleed to death if 
we don't look sharp ! " 

Von Eitelwurmer's injuries were ghastly at 
first sight. His left hand and wrist were 
simply a mass of scorched and lacerated flesh, 
his right hand was badly cut, while his face, 
ashy grey with a dreadful pallor, was pitted 
with embers from the smokeless powder. By 
his side were the remains of his gun, the barrel 
completely fractured for a distance of more 
than six inches. 

For a brief space the spy opened his eyes. 
He saw the two officers in naval uniform. 

''Gott in himmd!'* he gasped, and straight- 
way fainted. 

Entwistle glanced knowingly at the two 

S71 



872 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

chums and nodded significantly. Peter, in 
his agitation, had not grasped the significance 
of the exclamation uttered in the injured man's 
native tongue. 

'' There's a gate yonder,'* remarked Entwistle, 
while he and young Bar croft were engaged in 
checking the flow of arterial blood. " You two 
might fetch it. It will be just the thing to 
carry him to the village.'* 

Pulling himself together Peter hurried to- 
wards the gate, followed by Kirkwood, but 
not before the latter had been again warned 
by Entwistle to keep a discreet silence on the 
subject of the injured man's identity. 

'' We'll take him to his house," declared 
Entwistle. '' I don't think the injuries are 
dangerous, although they are bad enough. The 
correct course would be to run him into Bar- 
borough and put him in the infirmary, but I 
have good reasons for the steps I propose 
taking. Excellent, Barcroft," he exclaimed 
when the gate was forthcoming. '' Now, to- 
gether, lift." 

'' What happened, pater ? " asked Billy dur- 
ing the journey down the hillside. 

*' Hanged if I know exactly," replied Bar- 
croft Senior. '' I was ahead of him when it 
happened. Heard a fearful bang, turned round 
and found Norton on the ground." 

''Frozen snow in the barrel, most likely," 



ONE CARTRIDGE LEFT 373 

remarked Entwistle. '' I've known guns to 
burst before to-day through that reason/' 

'' He did sHp when we crossed the stile/* 
admitted Peter, ''and plenty of snow had 
drifted down there. But that theory won't 
hold. He fired his gun after that." 

'' He may have fallen down again, or un- 
knowingly poked the muzzle into another lot 
of snow," suggested Entwistle. " There was 
a good depth under the lee of those bushes, 
you'll remember, and I noticed by the foot- 
prints that he had walked through the drift." 

" It's awfully unfortunate," declared Peter. 

''Awfully — for the spy," thought Entwistle, 
"otherwise you might be taking his place on 
this improvised stretcher." 

The wounded man was taken to The Croft 
and put to bed. Two doctors, summoned by 
telephone, were quickly in attendance. 

" He'll pull through," was the verdict, " un- 
less complications ensue. Shock to the system 
is more to be guarded against than the actual 
injuries. Some one will have to be constantly 
with him, particularly to see that an even 
temperature of the room is maintained." 

" I'll stay," volunteered Entwistle. 

"We'll take turns," suggested Peter. "I'll 
relieve you at two o'clock. Lunch will be 
ready for you then. If we cannot get a trained 
nurse (there is a dearth of them in Barborough, 



874 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

I understand) Til be with him to-night. Come 
on, boys ; we'll get back to Ladybird Fold." 

During the meal Barcroft Senior spoke hardly 
a word. His appetite was poor. He was not 
used to scenes of physical violence. Even the 
unexpected arrival of Billy and the A. P. did 
Uttle to help him to regain his normal spirits. 

Limch over, Peter left the two chums to 
their own devices and wended his way to The 
Croft. 

He encountered Entwistle on the landing. 

''WeU?" he asked. 

"He's just recovered consciousness," 
reported PhiHp. '' A little light-headed, per- 
haps, and temperature up a bit. I'll come 
again at four. If you don't mind I'll arrange 
to stop here to-night." 

"You're awfully good," said Peter, who 
had perhaps unconsciously taken upon himself 
the duties of deputy master of The Croft. 
" Well, lunch is awaiting you. Make yourself 
at home at my place. If there's anything you 
require don't hesitate to ask for it." 

Entwistle had undertaken his self-imposed 
duties as sick-bed attendant with conscientious 
zeal ; but he had also found time to make a 
complete investigation of the spy's papers, 
securing several that promised to become in- 
criminating documents when subjected to pro- 
fessional scrutiny. At any rate, if he could be 



ONE CARTRIDGE LEFT S75 

undisturbed he anticipated an interesting after- 
noon's search. 

" ril tell Barcroft all about it when I have 
completed the chain of evidence/' he reflected. 
" He'll have a nasty shock, poor fellow, when 
he learns that his so-called pal tried to murder 
him. The whole thing's as plain as dayhght 
to me ; von Eitelwurmer meant to shoot him 
in the back, only the bursting of his gun saved 
Barcroft." 

Left in charge of his treacherous friend, 
Barcroft found the patient had fallen asleep. 
Since nothing more was to be done Barcroft 
Senior took up a book, at the same time sighing 
for a pipe, a luxury that out of praiseworthy 
consideration for the injured man he had 
temporarily abandoned. 

''By Jove!" said Peter to himself about 
an hour later. *' That fire's getting low." 

As silently as possible he heaped more coal 
upon the smouldering embers. Tending fires 
was not in his line. Often at home he would 
allow the study fire to die out simply through 
neglect to make use of the poker. 

Somewhat anxiously he watched the gradu- 
ally dimming glow. He was half-minded to 
ring for Mrs. Crumpet, until reflecting that the 
housekeeper at The Croft was evidently a 
person who made more noise in proportion to 
the work done than was desirable in the circum- 



376 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

stances, he decided to tackle the recalcitrant 
fire himself. 

Vainly he looked for a pair of bellows. Foiled 
in that direction he suddenly remembered 
having seen a smouldering fire roused into 
activity by means of a newspaper held over the 
grate. 

'' This might do," he soliloquised, picking up 
a couple of sheets of printed paper, since no 
newspaper could be found. " A catalogue of 
sorts : wonder if Norton wants it particu- 
larly ? " 

Slowly, very slowly, the dying fire began to 
revive, until under the forced draught a respec- 
table flame rewarded Peter's efforts. Patiently 
holding the printed sheets across the grate until 
his arm ached, he whiled away the time by 
reading the technical description of Someone's 
patent combined washtub-and-dryer. 

Suddenly his interest was aroused. 

'* Bless my soul ! " he ejaculated. '' That's 
funny. It wasn't there half a minute ago." 

Under the heat of the now glowing fire 
letters hitherto invisible took semblance upon 
the warm paper. To his utter surprise the 
name '' Barcroft " appeared in view. 

Hardly able to credit his senses Peter read 
the damning evidence of the supposed Andrew 
Norton's treachery. It was written in German, 
for, owing to Entwistle having on a previous 



ONE CARTRIDGE LEFT 377 

visit taken possession of the cypher (a circum- 
stance that had caused the spy hours of un- 
easiness until he had been lulled into a sense 
of false security), he had been obHged to re- 
sort to ordinary writing pending the arrival of 
another code-book. 

'' Your request for immediate action noted," 
read Peter. '' Expect Barer of t's removal 
to-day. Notifying impending accident to 
substantiate claim. Also hope to • secure his 
manuscript to-night. Will destroy it if unable 
to retain without exciting suspicion." 

There were also statistical particulars of the 
output of one of the Barborough munition 
factories, including the number of new gigantic 
shells, but Peter had not time to read that 
far. 

A reverberating report filled the room. A 
bullet, whizzing close to the head of the startled 
man, shattered into a thousand pieces a mirror 
on the wall. 

The spy, awaking from his sleep, had seen 
Barcroft poring over his secret — ^the same 
paper that he had been compelled to take 
hurriedly to his room that very morning when 
Peter disturbed him at his work. 

Von Eitelwurmer realised that the game was 
up. Visions of a firing party in the moat of 
The Tower gripped his mind. Anything but 
that : he would make Barcroft pay for his 



878 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

discovery, and afterwards send a shot through 
his own head. 

Under his pillow the spy habitually kept a 
Service revolver. This he fumbled for with his 
partly crippled right hand, and taking aim 
fired at Peter's head. 

In his weak state von Eitelwurmer had not 
taken into sufficient consideration the ''kick'' 
of the powerful weapon. At the first shot the 
revolver jerked itself from his feeble grasp and 
clattered upon the floor. 

'* Thank you/' said Peter firmly, as he 
stooped to pick up the weapon. He was 
surprised at his own almost unnatural calmness. 
*' Might I ask the reason for this — er — out- 
rage ? " 

" You have discovered everything,'' mut- 
tered the spy. *' That was sufficient reason." 

'' Accidentally," added Barcroft. '' Even 
then why should you seek my life and, what is 
almost as important to me, to destroy my 
labour — my writings ? Look here, Norton, the 
position is this. You are a spy, caught red- 
handed, and the penalty is, as you know, death." 

'' And I meant to settle you before that," 
hissed the recreant. 

'* But Providence decided otherwise," con- 
tinued Peter. '' I thought you a totally dif- 
ferent kind of person. You partook of my 
hospitahty, yet descend to attempted assas- 



ONE CARTRIDGE LEFT 8T9 

sination. Yet I do not forget that yesterday 
you saved my life. I wonder why ? However, 
we are now quits, but I feel inclined to do you a 
favour. In ordinary circumstances you would 
be nursed back to health merely for the purpose 
of undergoing trial and suffering execution. 
There is yet another way.'* 

** How ? '* asked the spy eagerly. 

'* By this,'' answered Peter holding up the 
revolver. *' I will extract all but one cartridge 
and return you the weapon. If you are still 
intent upon my life the instrument is in your 
hands — only, remember, you cannot fire a 
second shot. Here you are. I give you five 
minutes to decide." 

Slowly Bar croft crossed the room and de- 
scended the stairs. Only then did his calmness 
give way — and it required plenty of courage to 
deliberately turn away from a loaded weapon 
in the hands of a vindictive spy. 

Entering the dining-room Peter sank into a 
chair and rested his head on his hands. Only 
the loud ticking of the grandfather clock dis- 
turbed the silence until the door was pushed 
open and Phihp Entwistle entered. 

*' Hullo 1 " he exclaimed. '' What's wrong 
now ? Has Norton ? " 

" I have made a very remarkable discovery,*' 
said Peter. *' Andrew Norton is a German 
spy." 



380 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

'' Indeed ? " was Entwistle's rejoinder. 

'* Accidentally I found some incriminating 
writing. He saw what I had done and let rip 
at me with a revolver. Needless to say he 
missed/' 

'* That's the third lucky escape you've had 
from his murderous intentions," remarked Ent- 
wistle quietly. " I can tell you now. He 
tried either to murder or kidnap you by means 
of the ZeppeHn that came to Barborough. 
That the authorities gathered from one of the 
crew when the airship wats wrecked in the 
North Sea a few days ago and the men rescued 
by a British patrol boat. Secondly, he did his 
level best to shoot you in the back this morn- 
ing " 

''Is that so?" asked Barcroft. ''I can 
just understand a man doing such a thing 
through violent personal motives, but for a 
mere international reason " 

'* My dear fellow, there was the sum of ten 
thousand marks waiting to be earned." 

'' Yes," admitted Peter. '' I know that. 
But only yesterday he fished me out of the 
Dingle Dell stream when I was almost on the 
point of being drowned. For why ? " 

'' Ask me another," replied Entwistle. '' At 
any rate, you will have cause to reaUse the 
actual existence of the Unseen Hand. But what 
happened just now, after he fired and missed ? " 



ONE CARTRIDGE LEFT 381 

Peter Barcroft glanced at the clock. It 
wanted thirty seconds to complete the stipu- 
lated five minutes. 

'' I talked to him pretty straight/' he said. 
'' Shamed him a bit, I think. Anyway, I 
took four unused cartridges out of the revolver. 
Being a six-chambered weapon one cartridge 
remained.'' 

''Well?" 

*' I handed the pistol back to him ; told 
him if he were still of the same mind he had yet 
another chance to settle with me. He didn't — " 

'* Great Scott ! " exclaimed Entwistle 
striding towards the stairs. '' You left him 
with a loaded revolver ? " 

Peter laid a detaining hand on the Secret 
Service man's shoulder. 

*' I gave him five minutes," he said. '' And 
the time's up." 

A pistol shot rang out from the upstairs 
room. 

Siegfried von Eitelwurmer, otherwise Andrew 
Norton, had paid the penalty. 



CHAPTER XXXVI 

THE ELUSIVE OBJECTIVE 

'' By Jove ! old man/' exclaimed Kirkwood, 
*' we're up against a big thing to-morrow." 

Billy Barcroft merely nodded. It was " a big 
thing," this impending movement. Something 
that was well worth the risk, but at the same 
time the chances of the participators in the 
business returning were very remote. 

The two chums were pacing the port side of 
the quarter-deck of the" Hippodrome " — a long 
and comparatively narrow space betwixt the 
rise of the deck-houses and the stern, and 
separated from the corresponding part on the 
starboard side by the inclined launching plat- 
form. 

The seaplane-carrier was lying in a certain 
East Coast harbour, with steam raised ready 
to proceed at a moment's notice, and although 
her destination was supposed to be a strict 
secret, the nature of the forthcoming operations 
was known to all on board. 

Tt was nothing less than a raid on Cuxhaven, 

382 



THE ELUSIVE OBJECTIVE 383 

where a considerable portion of the German 
High Seas Fleet was known to be ''resting'' 
after a speculative but cautious cruise off the 
west coast of Jutland, the object being two- 
fold — ^to exercise the crews and to impress upon 
the incredulous Danes the fact that the fleet 
of the Black Cross Ensign were willing and 
anxious to meet the British navy. 

With their U-boats well out to sea, their 
ocean-going torpedo-boats forming a far-flung 
screen, and Zeppelins hovering overhead, the 
Hun '' capital ships" had steamed in and out, 
keeping withm their protective mine-fields. 
Having accompUshed this imposing evolution 
the battleships of the fleet returned, part going 
to Cuxhaven, the rest to Wilhelmshaven, while 
the bulk of the torpedo flotillas anchored off 
the east side of Heligoland. 

Once more the German Press had burst 
forth into a panegyric on the invincible and un- 
daunted prowess of the fleet of the Fatherland, 
taking good care to impress upon the people 
that, although every opportunity had been 
offered to the British to engage in battle, the 
challenge had been declined. 

The projected raid upon Cuxhaven was a 
reply to the Huns' empty boast. The seaplane 
carriers '' Hippodrome " '' Arena," *' Cursus " 
and '* Stadium/' escorted by Ught cruisers and 
destroyers, were to proceed to a rendezvous 



884 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

twenty miles west of Heligoland. Sixty miles 
away the British battle cruisers were to '' stand- 
by/' ready, at a wireless call for assistance, to 
tear off at full speed to the succour of the small 
craft should the latter, regarded as an easy 
prey, be attacked by the big-gun ships of the 
German navy. 

At the first blush of dawn twenty seaplanes 
cvere to start from their parent ships on their 
perilous flight over the Heligoland Bight and 
drop their powerful bombs upon the naval 
port of Cuxhaven — a feat that, knowing the 
formidable anti-aircraft defences, promised to 
be a forlorn hope; yet there was the keenest 
competition amongst the airmen of the fleet 
to participate in the '' grand stunt." 

The A. P. had carried out his promise to 
Barcroft. He had sold Billy the deeds of 
Mrs. Deringhame's house at Alderdene, and the 
flight-sub had sent them anonymously to Betty's 
mother. 

It was a tremendous financial sacrifice on 
Billy's part. It had practically wiped up the 
bulk of his capital, but Barcroft cared not 
one jot for that. What troubled him was 
the fact that he could not ask Betty to 
marry him on his meagre pay. He had very 
little doubt but that the girl would do so, 
for during his last leave he had been much 
in her company. 



THE ELUSIVE OBJECTIVE 385 

''It wouldn't be fair to Betty/* he solilo- 
quised. '' I must rake in some more cash, 
but goodness only knows how long it will take. 
One thing, we are both young, or Tm hanged if I 
would have the nerve to ask her to wait ! Well, 
if this raid comes off successfully it will mean 
promotion. That's one blessing. If it doesn't 
— well, Billy Bar croft won't be in a position to 
worry about anything, I guess." 

The flight-sub had completed his preparations. 
Two letters, one to his parents and one to 
Betty Deringhame, had been written, sealed 
and handed to the fleet-paymaster to be for- 
warded in the event of the writer's death. 
This unpleasant but necessary business per- 
formed, Barcroft dismissed the matter from 
his mind and concentrated his thoughts and 
energies on the work in hand. 

''All correct, Jones? " he asked, addressing 
the air-mechanic who was putting the finishing 
touches to the seaplane that was to carry 
Barcroft and Kirk wood on their adventurous 
flight. 

'' All correct, sir," was the reply. " I've 
advanced the spark a trifle, sir — she ought 
to simply buzz ; but perhaps you'll see that 
everything's to your satisfaction." 

Carefully Billy tested his controls, examined 
unions, contact breaker, and automatic lubri- 
cators. Success depended upon motor efficiency 
25 



B86 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

almost as much as upon the skill and courage 
of the pilot. The slightest hitch might spell 
disaster. 

" There's the permission to part company," 
annoimced Kirkwood as a signal, made in 
response to a display of bunting from the 
yard-arms of the respective seaplane-carriers, 
was hoisted from the naval signal station. 
** Wonder if I'll see Old England again," he 
added in an undertone. 

Already the cruisers were steaming out of 
harbour ; not in the pomp of pre-war days 
with guards drawn up on the quarter-deck and 
bands playing as each vessel passed the flag- 
ship. Silent and grim, huge emblems of sea- 
power, they glided past the harbour batteries 
and, increasing speed to twenty-two knots, were 
soon out of sight. 

With destroyers preceding and following, the 
lour seaplane-carriers were next to leave. On 
gaining the open sea they formed line abreast, 
surrounded by their vigilant escort ; the light 
cruisers, reducing speed to that of the convoy, 
taking up station two miles astern. 

In this formation the flotiUa reeled off knot 
after knot without incident, until late in the 
evening, when two of the destroyers on the 
*' Hippodrome's " starboard beam began a rapid 
fire that lasted nearly five minutes, breaking 
station and circUng in a fashion that recalled 



THE ELUSIVE OBJECTIVE 887 

the preliminary manoeuvres of a pair of cautious 
boxers. 

'' U-boat, somewhere over there/* commented 
Fuller, who with Barcroft and the A.P. was on 
deck in preference to the somewhat boisterous 
ward-room. '* I don't think theyVe got her. 
Wonder if she's dived and avoided the cordon. 
If so we'll have to look out." 

'' Hope she won't bag us at this stage of the 
proceedings,*' said Kirkwood. '' At any rate, 
our quick-fires are manned, and it wiU be dark 
in another half -hour." 

The two destroyers had resumed station, 
having signalled to the effect that no definite 
result was observed but it was beUeved that 
the U-boat's periscopes had been smashed by 
gun-fire. 

''The trouble will come later, I think," said 
Barcroft when the message was communicated 
to the ''Hippodrome's" officers. "If she 
isn't winged she'll rise to the surface after 
we're out of sight and wireless the news to the 
Heligoland signal station. The mere mention 
of seaplane carriers will put the Huns on the 
qui vive. However, that can't be helped ; 
I'm turning in, you feUows, and I advise you 
to do the same." 

Well before dawn the airmen detailed for 
the raid were roused from their sleep, or rather 
their efforts to slumber, since few were suffici- 



ass BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

ently proof against the excitement ot the 
forthcoming expedition to enjoy a good night's 
rest. 

Breakfast over, the members of the forlorn 
hope donned their leather coats and flying 
helmets, and assembled aft for final instructions 
from the wing commander. 

** There is to be no easing down to keep pace 
with the slowest machine,'' were his instruc- 
tions. '' Each man is to go for his objective 
at top speed. You have noted the positions 
of the various batteries, I trust ? It would be 
well to leave the Glienicke Redoubt well on 
your left. It's the only one, I believe, that 
mounts the latest Krupp's antis. On no ac- 
count must the bombing seaplane attempt to 
encounter hostile aircraft on the outward 
flight : leave that task to the escorting planes. 
If, however, you faU in with any Zeppehns, 
attack immediately. One more point : should 
the situation necessitate the withdrawal of the 
seaplane-carriers and their escorts you know 
your instructions ? Good. WeU, gentlemen, 
that is all I have to say, beyond wishing you 
the best of luck and a safe return." 

Barcroft's machine was the last to leave the 
''Hippodrome's" launching platform, and the 
last but one of the raiding craft. It was still 
dark. The misty outlines of the nearmost 
biplanes could be just discerned as they rose 



THE ELUSIVE OBJECTIVE; 889 

swiftly and steadily above the invisible de- 
stroyers. The crews of the latter gave the 
airmen three rousing cheers as they swept 
overhead, but the tribute was wasted. The 
farewell greetings were drowned by the roar 
of the engines. 

As dawn began to break Billy made a rather 
disconcerting discovery. His seaplane was now 
the last of the procession. It had been over- 
hauled by the one from the " Cursus/' and 
what was more she was slowly yet surely 
dropping astern. 

It did not appear to be the fault of the 
engine. The timing and firing seemed perfect. 
The motor was running like a clock, yet the 
rest of the raiding aircraft, most of which he 
knew were usually slightly inferior in speed, 
were distinctly gaining. 

With the growing dawn the four escorting 
battle seaplanes could be distinguished, two 
on either side of the long-drawn line of bomb- 
dropping air-craft. It was the duty of the 
former to engage any hostile aeroplane that 
attempted to bar the progress of the latter. 
Armoured and carrying two light quick-firers 
they were more than a match for the German 
airmen, and the latter were fully aware of the 
fact. 

^^Hang it all!" muttered the flight-sub 
as he actuated the rudder-bar and tilted the 



890 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

ailerons in order to check a cross-drift and to 
increase the altitude. '* It's getting jolly misty. 
Hope it doesn't mean fog." 

The rearmost of the rest of the air-squadron 
was now almost invisible, the others entirely 
so. As a matter of precaution Barcroft took 
a hurried compass bearing, fervently hoping 
that the mist would clear by the time he reached 
his desired objective. 

'* We're odd man out, old bird ! " he shouted 
through the voice-tube. ''Keep your eyes 
skinned. I don't want to get out of touct 
with McKenzie if it can be avoided." 

** It can't," replied his observer. *' He's 
just been swallowed up by the mist." 

'TU climb higher still," decided BiUy. 
** There must be a limit to this rotten patch of 
vapour." 

For another ten minutes Barcroft held on 
his course. He could not be far from land, he 
decided. Already the leading raiders must have 
achieved their object, if it were possible to 
see their target, and were on their return 
journey. The chances of a collision in mid- air 
with one of the British seaplanes suggested 
itself. The idea was not an inviting one — ^the 
impact of two frail and swiftly moving objects 
at an aggregate rate of nearly two hundred 
miles an hour, and the sickening crash to earth. 
There would be some satisfaction in knowing 



THE ELUSIVE OBJECTIVE 891 

nat an enemy aircraft was destroyed in this 
fashion, but the possibility — remote, no doubt 
— of sending one's fellow airmen and oneself to 
instant destruction was a proposition for which 
the misty air was responsible. 

" Fm going to shut off the juice,'' announced 
Billy to his observer. *' Keep your ears open, 
my festive." 

With the switching off of the ignition the 
seaplane commenced a long glide. The almost 
total silence, save for the s\\dsh of the air against 
the planes and struts, was broken by a succes- 
sion of loud rumbles. Some of the British 
raiders were at work. 

" In which direction ? '' shouted Barcroft. 

" Ahead on your left, I think," repUed Kirk- 
wood. 

'' Seems to me that the smash came from the 
right," declared the pilot. '' Can you see any 
flashes ? " 

'* Not a sign," replied the observer. '' The 
sounds seem as if they are coming from the 
right now — abaft the beam, if anything." 

" It's a proper mix up," thought Barcroft. 
*' Fog plays the very deuce with sound. If 
the other fellows are able to drop their bombs 
it proves that the mist is confined to the upper 
air. Dash it all ! Are we never going to get 
clear of this muck ? " 

He jerked his goggles upwards until they 



iOt BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

rested on his cap. For all practical purposes 
they were useless, although guaranteed to be 
immune from the effect of moisture. The front 
of his coat was glistening with particles of ice. 
Everything he touched was slippery ^\ith rime. 
Jets of vapour, caused by the cold moisture 
coming in contact with the warm cyUnders, 
drifted into his face and buffeted his blood- 
shot eyes. 

'* If s almost as bad as the night when Fuller 
and I strafed that Zep.," thought Kirkwood, 
who, although in a more sheltered position 
than his companion, came in for a generous 
share of the atmospheric discomforts. 

A sudden jerk, so severe that it was a wonder 
the huge wing-spread did not collapse under 
the rapid change of pressure as Barcroft tilted 
the ailerons, told the observer that something 
had been sighted. Almost simultaneously the 
motor was restarted and the seaplane rising 
and banking steeply almost grazed the top- 
masts of a number of ships. 

Kirkwood grasped the lever of the bomb- 
dropping gear and hung on till the order to let 
rip. But Barcroft gave no indication for the 
w^ork of destruction. 

''Sailing craft," he said to himself. ''I 
could see their topsail yards. They are not 
what we want. Evidently we are over the 
commercial part of the harbour, if this is 



THE ELUSIVE OBJECTIVE 893 

Cuxhaven. I'll buzz round and see if we have 
any luck/' 

Round and round in erratic curves, ascending 
and descending, the seaplane sped, yet without 
sighting any more shipping. Twice she came 
within sight of the ground, descending to within 
fifty feet in order to do so, but only an expanse 
of tilled fields rewarded the pilot's efforts. 
Then, climbing to a safe altitude he again 
volplaned in the hope of being guided by 
the sound of the bombardment. Again his 
endeavours met with no success. All was 
quiet, beyond the discordant clanging of a 
distant bell. The raiders had come and gone. 
Whether the fog had cut short their operations, 
or whether the air had been sufficiently clear 
to enable them to locate their objective, he 
knew not. The fact remained that Billy and 
the A. P. were lost in the fog and unable to 
carry out their allotted part of the strafing 
affair. They might be ten, twenty, or even 
thirty miles over German territory, so vague 
had been their course. Unless they speedily 
made tracks for the rendezvous they stood 
a good chance of running short of petrol 
should the fog extend sufficiently seaward to 
prevent them sighting the waiting seaplane 
carriers. 

'* What's the move, old man ? *' shouted 
the A.P. 



894 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

'' Off back," was the reply. " Xothin' doin* 
this trip." 

"Hard lines," rejoined Kirkwood. '* It's 
getting worse, if anything." 

Wliich was a fact, for the frozen particles of 
moisture were increasing in size, and, driven 
into the airmen's faces by the rush of the 
seaplane through the air, were lacerating 
their skin until their features were hidden by 
congealed blood. Goggles being worse than 
useless, the two officers were compelled to 
close their eyehds to within a fraction of an 
inch and suffer acute torments from the biting 
air. 

Very cautiously Barcroft planed down until 
the altitude gauge indicated a hundred feet. 
Seeing and hearing nothing he descended still 
further, restarting the engine as a matter of 
precaution. 

Presently a rift in the wall of vapour enabled 
both pilot and observer to discern a flat, greyish 
expanse of sand through which several small 
channels woimd sinuously. 

" Good ! " muttered Billy. '* Now we know, 
more or less. We're over the sandbanks off 
the mouth of the Elbe — unless it's the Weser. 
Anyway, nor' west is the course until we get 
away from this fog." 

Ten minutes later the bank of vapour showed 
signs of diminishing in density ; then, with a 



THE ELUSIVE OBJECTIVE 895 

Suddenness that left the two airmen bUnking 
in the watery sunshine, the seaplane dashed 
into the clear daylight. 

The sight that met their eyes was particularly 
cheerful. Ahead, at a distance of about four 
miles, lay the island fortress of Heligoland. 
But for one reason Barcroft would have made 
unhesitatingly for this strongly fortified rock 
of sandstone, drop his cargo of explosives and 
trust to luck to get clear. There was a more 
tempting inducement, for almost directly under- 
neath the British seaplane was a large German 
warship. 



CHAPTER XXXVII 



'* THE GREAT STRAFE '* 



The sight was an unfamiliar one. Many a 
time had Bar croft seen a British battleship 
from above, but never before one of the first- 
class units of the Kaiser's navy. This one was 
a two-masted, three-funnelled vessel, the pe- 
culiar shape of the ''smoke stacks'' proclaim- 
ing her to be one of the " Deutschland " Class 
— built thirteen years previously, and carrying 
as her principal armament four ii-inch guns. 
She was not under her own steam. Tugs 
were lashed alongside, a third towing ahead. 
She had a decided list to starboard and appeared 
to be slightly down by the head. 

"She's been hammered a bit," thought 
Billy. " We'll do our level best to shake her 
up a lot more. Pity she's not one of the ' Hin- 
denburg ' type, but half a loaf is better than 
no bread, so here goes." 

As a matter of fact the battleship had been 
knocked about a week previously, owing to 
having bumped against one of the drifting 

396 



"THE GREAT STRAFE" 397 

German mines. Brought with difficulty into 
the outer roadstead, she was being repaired 
as secretly as possible in order to return to Kiel 
for completion of refit. The disaster having 
been concealed, at least officially, from the 
German populace, it had been considered neces- 
sary to keep the injured vessel off HeHgoland 
rather than take her through the Imperial 
Canal in her nondescript state. 

The British naval air raid upon Cuxhaven 
had completely upset this arrangement. News 
of the impending attack had been wirelessed, 
as Barcroft had surmised, from the U-boat 
that had been driven off by the seaplanes' 
escort, and, not knowing what the raiders' 
objective actually was, the Germans had hastily 
sent the crippled battleship from the roadstead 
in the hope that she might lie safely in the Kiel 
Canal before the aerial bombardment took 
place. 

All three tugs were blowing off steam vigor- 
ously. The hiss of the escaping vapour had 
prevented the Huns from hearing the noisy 
British seaplane's approach, and now at an 
altitude of five thousand feet Barcroft had the 
huge target at his mercy. It was, however, 
necessary to descend considerably. There must 
be no risk of missing the slowly-moving battle- 
ship. 

Descending in short right-handed spirals the 



Sdb BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

pilot brought his craft within five hundred feet 
of his enemy. A bugle-blast, followed by the 
appearance of swarms of sailors as they rushed 
to man the light quick-firers, announced that 
the impending danger had been sighted. At 
all events, it was not to be a one-sided engage- 
ment, for almost simultaneously two anti-air- 
craft gims, mounted on the battleship's for'ard 
turret, came into action. 

Both shells passed so close to the seaplane 
that the pilot distinctly felt the ''windage*' 
of the projectiles. The frail aircraft reeled in 
the blast of the displaced air, but fortunately 
the time-fuses of the shells were not set ac- 
curately. The missiles burst over eight himdred 
feet above their tatrget. 

Deftly Kirkwood released a couple of bombs. 
Both found their objective, one striking the 
fo'c'sle between the steam capstan and the 
for'ard turret, the other sHghtly in the wake of 
the bridge and chart-house, completely wrecking 
both. In a few seconds the whole of the 
fore-part of the battleship was hidden by a 
dense cloud of smoke. 

'* Not so dusty," thought Billy as he man- 
oeuvred to enable the observer to drop another 
couple of '' plums." As he did so a shell burst 
almost underneath the seaplane, ripping a 
dozen holes in the wings and severing a strut 
like a match-stick. 



"THE GREAT STRAFE" 899 

Out of the enveloping mushroom-shaped 
cloud of white smoke the seaplane staggered. 
For the moment Billy fancied that she was out 
of control and on the point of making a fatal 
nose-spin. 

'* Let's hope, then, that she'll drop fairly on 
top of that strafed hooker/' was the thought 
that flashed across his mind. 

But no ; grandly the gallant little seaplane 
recovered herself. A touch of the pilot's feet 
upon the rudder-bar showed that she was 
capable of being steered, while apparently the 
controls were still in order. 

Billy gave a quick glance over his shoulder. 
To his reUef he found Kirkwood cool and 
imperturbable at his post, awaiting the oppor- 
tune moment to release another pair of powerful 
bombs. 

One burst aft, utterly knocking out the crew 
of the anti-aircraft gun that had so nearly 
strafed their attackers ; the other, missing the 
warship's deck, landed fairly and squarely upon 
the tug lashed to the starboard side. 

The little vessel, totally ripped up amidships, 
sank amid the roar of escaping steam, but still 
secured by fore and aft '' springs " — ^wire haw- 
sers stout enough to withstand the strain — she 
acted as a tremendous drag upon the huge bulk 
of the battleship. 

In vain the latter attempted to check her 



400 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

tendency to swing to starboard by liberal use 
of the helm. The other tugs, still straining at 
their task, only made matters worse, until 
finally the towing craft, unable to check the 
side strain on her hawser, slewed completely 
round, and in this position was rammed by the 
steel prow of the battleship. 

By this time Billy had manoeuvred for a 
third attack. So great was the confusion on 
the German's decks — most of the men who had 
survived the explosion bolting from their dubi- 
ous cover — that the seaplane was no longer 
subjected to a peppering from the Archibalds. 

For years naval architects had been increas- 
ing the strength of a battleship's side- armour, 
while the thickness of the ** protected" deck, 
considered only liable to glancing hits, was 
kept at about three inches of steel. The 
present war quickly found the defects of in- 
sufficient deck armour. Enormous shells, fired 
at a range of eighteen thousand yards, fell 
almost vertically upon the decks of battleships 
during the Jutland fight, while the menace 
from bombs dropped from hostile aircraft was 
only beginning to be realised. 

Slowing down Barcroft again approached 
his quarry. This time Kirkwood released three 
of the high-explosive missiles. Two, fairly 
close together, by the after ii-inch gun turret, 
completed the business. 



"THE GREAT STRAFE'' 401 

With a rush and a roar, indescribably appal- 
ling in its titanic power, the battleship's after 
magazine exploded. The seaplane, whirled like 
a feather in a hurricane, was enveloped in a 
cloud of black smoke tinged with flames and 
mingled with flying fragments from the disin- 
tegrated ship. In utter darkness Billy found 
himself on the underside of the overturned 
machine. Only the resisting strength of his 
broad securing strap saved him from being 
hurled downward like a stone. 

Almost rendered senseless by the asphyxiat- 
ing fumes, thrown about as far as the '' give '* 
of the strap permitted, his head shaken like a 
pea in a box, Barcroft was only dimly conscious 
that the job had been done almost too well. 
In spite of the danger of his hazardous position 
he was filled with a sense of elation. The 
seaplane had scored heavily, and for the present 
nothing else mattered. Deafened by the thun- 
derous explosion, unable to see a hand's length 
in front of his face, he was at a loss to ascertain 
whether the motor was still running or whether 
the seaplane was engaging in a final tail-spin. 

Mechanically he grasped the joy-stick. The 
seaplane was then looping the loop for the third 
consecutive time. Something — what it was he 
was unable to ascertain — hit the fuselage with 
a resounding crash. The lightly-built fabric 
trembled under the impact. It seemed as if 
26 



402 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

the body of the machine had been ripped 
asunder. 

At nearly a hundred miles an hour the 
seaplane cleared the edge of the drifting smoke. 
She was then ''on an even keel," but about 
to nose-dive towards the surface of the sea, 
barely a couple of hundred feet below. 

The sudden transition to the light of day 
recalled Billy to a sense of his responsibilities. 
The engine was working, although he heard 
only a very subdued buzz. Something had 
to be done to avoid the impending violent 
impact with the waves. 

Billy did it — how, he could never remember, 
but, as in a dream, he regained control of the 
badly-shaken craft and began to climb reso- 
lutely from the scene of his exploit. 

A hasty glance at the planes revealed the 
unpleasant fact that huge rents were visible in 
the fabric. It seemed marvellous how the 
greatly-reduced wing-surface could impart suffi- 
cient lifting power to the machine ; yet, with 
a disconcerting wobble she held her own against 
the attraction of gravity. 

He turned his head, half expecting to find 
that Kirkwood was no longer his companion, 
but to his unbounded satisfaction he saw the 
A. P. still in his seat. Not only that, but Bobby 
was grinning with intense glee at the successful 
issue of the encounter between the giant and 



"THE GREAT STRAFE" 408 

the pigmy. His face was as black as a sweep's 
and streaiked with blood, his flying helmet had 
vanished, leaving his scorched hair rippling in 
the furious breeze. 

Picking up the voice-tube the irrepressible 
observer shouted something to his companion. 
Only a strange rumble reached Barcroft's ear. 
He had been rendered absolutely deaf by the 
concussion. 

Pulling his diary from his pocket Kirkwood 
scribbled a few words and handed his paper to 
the pilot. 

'' How's that ? " read BiUy. '' Fritz got it 
in the neck that time. That's a great strafe." 

Billy held the voice-tube to his mouth in 
order to reply, but no sound came from his 
lips. Like a blow from a sledge-hammer the 
awful truth came home to him. He was deaf 
and speechless. 



CHAPTER XXXVIII 

SNATCHED FROM HER PURSUERS 

KiRKWOOD was quick to grasp the nature of 
the calamity that had overtaken his chum. 
Although considerably shaken by the concus- 
sion the observer was still in possession of his 
senses, except that his hearing was slightly 
impaired. 

Again a slip of paper passed between the 
two chums. On it Kirkwood had written : — 
'* Enemy torpedo craft leaving HeHgoland. 
Are you fit to carry on ? Want any help ? '* 

Barcroft, reading the sUp, nodded. The 
mere suggestion of reUnquishing his command 
*' bucked him up '' considerably. A glance 
showed that Kirkwood' s announcement was 
correct. From the anchorage on the north- 
east side of the island a regular swarm of 
hornets was emerging — some of the boats 
steaming towards the scene of the disaster to 
the battleship, others heading in the direction 
taken by the seaplane responsible for the great 
catastrophe. 

404 



SNATCHED FROM HER PURSUERS 405 

The new danger could be treated lightly 
provided the seaplane was able to carry on and 
fall in with her parent ship. The torpedo-boats 
were not within range of their guns, while the 
speed of the seaplane was more than double 
that of the swiftest of her pursuers, even in her 
damaged condition. Should the chase be main- 
tained for any length of time there was a chance 
of the British destroyers cutting off some, if 
not all, of the hostile craft. 

*' Wireless the ' Hippo,' " wrote Barcroft, 
receiving the laconic reply '' Can't.'' The deH- 
cate apparatus had been put out of action when 
the seaplane staggered under the force of the 
explosion. 

'* Then that's done it," thought Billy, pulling 
off his gloves and running his finger over a 
slight, almost imperceptible, dent in the petrol- 
tank. The engine was missing badly, and 
although able to note the fact by observation 
the pilot guessed rightly that the precious fluid 
was leaking. Holding his fingers to his nostrils 
he could faintly smell the volatile fluid. The 
petrol was leaking, and evaporating as fast as 
it came in contact with the air. 

The application of a piece of soap to the 
minute fracture temporarily remedied matters, 
but the mischief was already done. The petrol 
was almost exhausted. 

By this time the German torpedo-boats were 



406 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

almost out of sight, mere dots upon the horizon, 
their position indicated by long traihng clouds 
of black smoke. Some uncanny knowledge 
must have urged the commanders of the various 
boats to hang on to what appeared to be a 
fruitless chase. To them the seaplane would 
be almost invisible unless they kept her under 
observation by means of their binoculars. In 
that case they must have noticed the little 
aircraft gradually dropping towards the surface 
of the sea. 

Anxiously Barer oft scanned the expanse of 
water in front — a clear field of sea bounded by 
an unbroken horizon. The seaplane carriers 
and their strong escort had steamed homewards, 
taking it for granted that one at least of the 
raiders on Cuxhaven had been brought down 
by the heavy hostile fire. 

The attempt had been only moderately 
successful. The fog that had baffled Barcroft 
had enveloped the rest of the British seaplanes 
before they had time to get properly to M^ork. 
Altogether a dozen bombs had been dropped 
upon the naval port, before the thick bank of 
haze enveloped them and hid their desired 
object from their view. 

Greeted by a tremendous fire from the 
German Archibalds, the raiders returned in 
safety ; ' for the Huns, baffled by the thick 
weather, could only fire at random. With a 



SNATCHED FROM HER PURSUERS 40? 

few minor damages the airmen regained their 
respective parent ships, and then it was dis- 
covered that Barer oft and Kirk wood had not 
returned. None of the other flying men had 
sighted their machine after the first few minutes 
of the outward flight. It was therefore con- 
cluded that the two men were lost, and notwith- 
standing Fuller's request to make a search, the 
"Hippodrome" and her consorts steamed 
westward. 

Although Barer oft felt acute disappointment 
at finding that the vessels had left the rendez- 
vous, he realised that no blame could be attached 
to the officers responsible for the order to 
return. Had he flown straight back he might 
have been in time, but it was the bombing of 
the battleship that had delayed him. 

"It's jolly well worth it," he sohloquised. 
" But we look like being in the cart again. I 
begin to think that Kirkwood is a bit of a 
Jonah, although hitherto he's managed to turn 
up safely. Hope his luck — and mine — will still 
hold good." 

A motionless blade of the propeller, coming 
across his field of vision, betokened the unpleas- 
ant fact that the motor had refused duty. 
Almost imperturbably Billy held on to the 
joy-stick, guiding the seaplane on her long 
seaward ghde. 

The A. P., thinking that something had be- 



408 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

fallen his chum, leant over the curved deck of 
the chassis and touched his shoulder. 

Barcroft smiled in reply and pointed to the 
empty petrol-tank — a smile that restored his 
companion's confidence. Nevertheless the vol- 
plane was a dangerous one. The reduction of 
the wing-spread, bad enough when the machine 
was driving furiously through the air, caused 
the seaplane to sHp badly while solely under 
the attraction of gravity. Should a " slip '* 
occur just before the floats took the water 
the chance of a fatal capsize were almost a 
dead certainty. 

Realising such a possibihty the A. P., who had 
already unbuckled his waist-strap, kept on the 
alert, ready at the first sign of a disaster to 
hack through his companion's belt with a keen 
knife. Even then he wondered what was the 
use ? With no help in sight their fruitless 
struggle for life would only be unnecessarily 
prolonged. Then came the opposing thought : 
while there's Hfe there's hope, and never say 
die till you're dead. 

Again the volplaning craft side-slipped. 
Barcroft was only just in time to regain control, 
and making a faultless '' landing," brought his 
command to an aerial rest upon the surface. 
It could not be termed other than an aerial rest, 
for the simple reason that the waterbome fabric 
was rolling and pitching in the short steep seas 



SNATCHED FROM HER PURSUERS 409 

that are to be met with oS the flat Frisian 
shore. 

''For one thing the day is long/' thought 
Billy as he stood upright upon the deck of the 
swaying chassis and, supporting himself by one 
of the struts, looked fixedly in the direction of 
the pursuing torpedo-boats. They were no 
longer visible, the difference in altitude having 
put them below the horizon, but the ominous 
clouds of smoke told the flight-sub that the 
Huns were still persisting in their search. It 
was just possible, however, that they might 
pass some miles to windward and not sight 
the inconspicuous disabled seaplane in that 
waste of waters. 

Even supposing such to be the case, what 
fate was in store for the crew of this helpless 
machine ? This part of the North Sea on which 
they had alighted was a sort of nautical No 
Man's Land. Fishing vessels gave it a wide 
berth, fearing the deadly and unseen menace 
of the mines. Merchantmen no longer followed 
the once busy maritime highway that led to 
the erstwhile prosperous port of Hamburg. 
Save for rare excursions on the part of the 
German torpedo flotillas and the occasional 
''sweeps" of Beatty's light cruisers and de- 
stroyers nothing afloat was Hkely to pass that 
way. Should the seaplane remain seaborne 
sufficiently long she might drift ashore, but 



410 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

from the direction of the wind it was pretty 
obvious that she would do so somewhere on 
the German Frisian group outside the southern 
portion of the chain of islands belonging to 
neutral Holland. 

The A. P. nudged his companion and ten- 
dered his cigarette case. Kirkwood was already 
smoking a pipe on the principle that he never 
knew when he might have a chance of another. 
Billy took the proffered cigarette and Ut it. 
The tobacco seemed tasteless. With his lack 
of speech the flavour of the fragrant weed was 
denied him. 

Nearer and nearer came the smudges of 
smoke. The Huns were hard on the track of 
the crippled seaplane. Already Barcroft could 
distinguish the grey funnels just visible above 
the sky-Une. 

'* We must destroy our maps and documents/' 
he wrote. '* When I give the word smash the 
floats. Don't forget your air-collar." 

FumbHng in the locker the observer produced 
a pneumatic life-saving arrangement, which, 
when inflated, was capable of supporting its 
wearer for an indefinite time. 

Suddenly in the midst of the task of inflating 
the collar Kirkwood removed the tube from 
his lips. The air rushed out, and the rubber 
fabric collapsed like a punctured pneumatic 
tyre, while the A.P. stared with wide-open eyes 



SNATCHED FROM HER PURSUERS 411 

at something not more than a hundred yards 
distant above the surface of the water. 

*' A periscope, by Jove ! '' he exclaimed, 
making a grab at his maps and papers. They, 
at all events, had to be destroyed. 

Although his companion heard not a sound 
his attention was attracted by Kirk wood's 
manner. He, too, saw the spar-like object 
forging slowly ahead — so slowly that the cleav- 
age of the water was insufficient to throw up 
the usual tell-tale feather of spray. 

Deliberately, almost human -like, the eye of 
the periscope turned slowly in a complete 
circle. The submarine, satisfied that there 
was no immediate danger to be anticipated, 
shook herself clear of the water, disclosing her 
conning-tower and a portion of the hull of one 
of the British G Class. 

Hardly able to credit their good fortune the 
flight-sub and his companion thrust their maps 
into their pockets and began to wave for as- 
sistance — a quite unnecessary act since the 
heutenant-commander of G 21 had already 
concluded rightly that the airmen were his 
compatriots in distress. 

Five or six of her crew appearing on the long, 
narrow deck, the ungainly hull of the sub- 
marine, skilfully manoeuvred, approached suffi- 
ciently close to enable Kirkwood to catch a coil 
of rope, and the seaplane was hauled alongside. 



412 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

'' Jump, sir !" shouted a petty officer. 

Although unable to hear the words Barer oft 
understood the gesture. He waited until his 
observer had leapt, then seizing a small axe 
from the body of the fuselage, he shattered 
each of the frail floats, and as his command 
sank beneath his feet he scrambled up the 
bulging side of the rescuing submarine. 

'' Barcroft's deaf and dumb," Kirkwood ex- 
plained to a sympathetic lieutenant. '* You'd 
better look sharp. There are a dozen strafed 
torpedo-boats after us." 

*' P'raps it's as well if we do," commented 
the officer. "I'll trouble you for your yarn 
when we are snugly down below." 

In less than a minute the crew and the 
rescued airmen were hermetically sealed in 
the hull of G 21, and descending to a depth 
of fifteen fathoms the submarine rested upon 
the bed of the North Sea until the German 
torpedo-craft, foiled in their endeavour to 
locate their quarry, steamed back to the se- 
curity of the inner roadstead of Heligoland. 



CHAPTER XXXIX 

AND LAST 

A WEEK later found Flight-sub-lieutenant Bar- 
croft a patient in a large Naval Hospital some- 
where on the East Coast. His case was an 
interesting one as far as the medical officers were 
concerned, but far from it from a strictly personal 
point of view. The medicos, expressing their 
beUef in their abiUty to restore the young officer's 
powers of speech and hearing, were unremitting 
in their attentions, so far without success. 

Billy, after the first fit of despondency had 
passed, was still far from sanguine as to the 
result of the numerous operations and experi- 
ments performed by the hospital staff. Unable 
to communicate with any one except by means 
of paper and pencil, he had already come to 
the conclusion that his flying days were over. 
He might hope for a partial restoration of his 
lost senses, but nothing more. There was one 
thought to console him. He had not been 
rendered blind by the terrific glare as his 
gigantic victim was blown sky high. The 
blessing of sight was still his. 

413 



414 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

It irritated him beyond measure to see other 
patients conversing, to watch their lips move, 
their expressive gestures of understanding, and 
yet to Hve in an atmosphere of profound silence. 
It was humihating to have to approach a fellow- 
creature and laboriously commit to paper a 
request for a most trivial thing; exasperating 
to follow the comparatively tedious pencil as the 
person addressed in this manner wrote his reply. 

Still living in hopes Barcroft had studiously 
concealed the news of his afHiction from his 
parents and from Betty. His letters to them 
were as Ught and cheerful as of yore, yet he 
felt that they were a sham. Sooner or later, 
unless medical science was able to conquer 
the baffling case, he would be compelled to 
have to admit that he was — a useless encum- 
brance : those were his thoughts. 

Almost every one of his brother airmen had 
visited him since his arrival at the hospital, for 
the '' Hippodrome,'' having returned to her base, 
was lying in harbour almost within sight of the 
huge building. Some tried, rather dismally, to 
be funny, hoping to cheer their luckless comrade ; 
others were so sympathetic that they depressed 
Billy almost to a state of desperation. It was 
difficult to appear at ease in the presence of a 
deaf and dumb man — and Barcroft knew it. 

One afternoon John Fuller came to see him. 
It was the second visit that day. The lieutenant 



AND L.\ST 415 

was practical even when in the presence of his 
afflicted shipmate, for instead of sitting down 
and laboriously writing out the preliminaries 
to a long-drawn-out conversation he drew a 
paper from his pocket and handed it to his 
chum. And this is what Barcroft read : — 

" Congrats, old man. Just heard from * top- 
sides,' absolutely official : the battleship you 
strafed was the ' Schlesien,' complement 660. 
Our skipper has put in a claim on your behalf 
at £5 a head. Unless the judge decides that 
the prize money is to be divided between the 
* Hippo's ' ships-company, which is unUkely, 
Kirkwood and you spht £3,300 between you. 
You are also promoted to FUght-lieutenant and 
hsLve been awarded the V.C. and Kirkwood the 
D.S.O. You'll see that in to-morrow's Gazette'* 

For a full half-minute Barcroft looked with 
strained inquiry at his chum. His head seemed 
whirling round and round, then like a roar 
from a cannon something seemed to beat upon 
his ear-drums. 

*' It's too good to be true," he said. 

** Absolute fact," replied Fuller. '' Bless my 
soul, Billy, you can speak !" 

'' And hear, too," almost shouted the de- 
lighted newly-fledged Ueutenant. ** Come 
along, John ; I'm off to the telegraph office. 
Keep on speaking, old bird. It's a delight, 
J hardly expected to he^ you again/' 



416 BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S. 

The hospital post-office was at the far end of 
the building. Entering the somewhat crowded 
room, Billy, with a trembUng hand, filled in a 
form and gave it to a girl clerk. 

The girl took the form, counted the words 
and scribbled something on a piece of paper 
and offered it to the fiight-Heutenant. 

'' Thank you,'' said Billy smiling. '' But it 
isn't necessary now, thank Heaven. I can 
both speak and hear." 

'' I am glad, Mr. Barcroft," replied the 
girl, who knew all about the circumstances 
under which he had received his injuries. 
''Reply paid? That will be eighteen -pence. 
You may get a reply in an hour." 

The telegram that Billy had dispatched was 
to Miss Betty Deringhame. It was : 

'' Am applying for leave. Will you fulfil 
your promise ? " 

After a seemingly interminable wait Billy's 
reply was received. 

His message consisted of nine words ; hers 
of one only : '* Yes." 

It was all that Fiight-Heutenant Barcroft, 
V.C, desired. His cup of happiness was filled 
to overflowing. 

THE END 



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